State Auditor Tim Keller wants answers from the state Department of Health for delays in the processing of cards for medical cannabis program patients. In a letter to DOH Secretary-designate Lynn Gallagher sent yesterday, Keller writes that that his office will audit the department’s compliance with the legally-required 30-day waiting period for processing applications of new and returning medical cannabis patients. Patients are required to renew their cards every year. As NM Political Report and other news outlets have recently reported, thousands of patients are waiting as much as two or three times the required time period to receive their card, despite a state statute requiring the department to process applications in no longer than 30 days. Patients waiting in the limbo period aren’t legally allowed to buy cannabis, even if they were members of the program and have been prescribed cannabis by their doctors.
Jason Barker has been a medical cannabis patient in New Mexico for the past year and a half. His qualifications for the state program amount to his complex posttraumatic stress disorder diagnoses, a condition he said developed after being molested as a child, dealing with physical abuse as an adult and working as an EMT in South Carolina. When his PTSD symptoms get bad, Barker said he usually avoids the outside world “because things become that hard to deal with.”
Related: DOH gets warned about medical marijuana delays
This happened earlier this year when the state Department of Health, which administers the program, delayed Barker’s renewal in the program for 58 days total and 28 days after its expiration. State law requires each medical cannabis patient renew their cards every year, though that waiting period is supposed to last one month at most. The waiting time made Barker unable to legally purchase cannabis, putting him in what he called “a legal grey area.”
During the time Barker didn’t have access to cannabis, his PTSD symptoms kicked back into gear.
A New Mexico health provider and cannabis advocate is at the forefront of the possible massive change to how marijuana is treated in the United States. Bryan Krumm, a nurse practitioner and director of Harmony Psychiatric, filed a petition in 2009 to have cannabis taken off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Substances in Schedule I are considered to be the most dangerous, have no medical use and have a high potential for abuse. Krumm’s is one of three pending petitions. Earlier this month, the Drug Enforcement Administration sent a letter to the U.S. Senate indicating a decision on marijuana will be made sometime this summer.
—HSD Secretary talks behavioral health shakeup. Here at NM Political Report, we’ve been following the behavioral health shakeup that came after the state Human Services Department decided to cut off Medicaid funding for 15 providers, citing “credible allegations of fraud.”
Since then, several went out of business and the Attorney General exonerated 13 of the groups. While he wasn’t at the helm at the time, legislators on the Legislative Finance Committee still wanted an update on the process from the department’s secretary. HSD Secretary Brent Earnest explained that there was “still some overbilling” with those providers who were cleared and there was an ongoing administrative process to deal with the overbilling. He was less willing to say what that process was, beyond saying it would be “months more than years” before the situations were resolved and that currently OptumHealth is holding the funds.
The Senate rejected legislation Sunday evening that would have allowed voters to decide whether to legalize and tax the sale of marijuana in New Mexico. After a 45 minute debate, the Senate voted 17-24 to against the proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque. Ortiz y Pino, who has pushed similar legislation in previous years, said he proposed the legislation as a constitutional amendment to send a message to the federal government. He called the federal regulation on marijuana a “wrongheaded approach.”
“I only hope this is one time New Mexico will not be the 49th state to act,” Ortiz y Pino said. While some Democratic members voted against the proposal, only Republican members spoke out in opposition.
A proposal that would allow voters to weigh in on legalizing recreational marijuana passed its second test and will now advance to the Senate floor. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment on party lines, marking the first time marijuana legalization legislation has ever made it to the floor of either chamber in the New Mexico Legislature. Related Story: Marijuana legalization proposal dies on Senate floor
“The vote tonight made history because it’s never passed through two committees,” Emily Kaltenbach, executive director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, said following the vote. “It’s a really important step and it shows just the momentum of the discussion and the will of the people have finally been listened to.”
The legislation passed the Senate Rules Committee earlier this week. When the legislation passed the Rules Committee in 2015, it was the first time such legislation had ever passed one committee.
A proposal to legalize marijuana advanced from the Senate Rules Committee Wednesday morning, in a fashion that even a key supporter found surprising. Related Story: Marijuana legalization passed a second committee for the first time ever
The Senate Rules Committee initially voted against a do-pass motion, which would send the proposed constitutional amendment to the Senate Judiciary Committee with a recommendation to pass. The vote was on party lines with Democrats in favor and Republicans against; there were an equal number of each in the committee Wednesday. Related Story: House says no to worker’s comp money going to medical pot
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, then asked for a do-pass with no recommendation. Sen. Ted Barela, R-Estancia, joined all Democrats present and voted for the legislation.
The House passed a bill Tuesday that would bar insurance companies and employers from having to reimburse costs of workers’ medical marijuana through Worker’s Compensation. House Majority Floor Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said in House Judiciary Committee he had a hard time voting for the bill, but did anyway. On the House floor, Gentry successfully offered an amendment that would make the bill conditional on federal law. He went on to say that he fully supports medical marijuana and what said were its benefits. “I think that medical cannabis does a great number of people a great deal of good,” Gentry said.
Sixty-one percent of adults in New Mexico support legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana, according to a poll released Thursday by Research & Polling. When coupled with restrictions on where marijuana can be produced and requirements that sales revenue go toward health and drug rehab programs, that number supporting legalization jumps to 69
percent. Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said the poll is evidence that the state is ready to join Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Arizona as states with legalized recreational marijuana. “What it shows is that New Mexicans support legalization,” he said. “Not just ex-hippies in Taos, not just people who read The Nation in Santa Fe, not just [University of New Mexico] students in Albuquerque, but people in every part of this state support legalization.”
Ortiz y Pino is proposing an amendment to the state constitution that would let voters decide whether to legalize in the general election this fall.
As prefiled bills roll in to the Roundhouse, New Mexicans can expect to see some of the usual suspects. The legalization of recreational marijuana has become one of those perennial bills. This year, Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, has filed a legalization bill similar to one he filed last year. McCamley told NM Political Report the issue absolutely is a budget issue and and should be considered during the short session. “For this not be considered would be grossly inappropriate,” McCamley said in a phone interview on Monday.