The New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) has until August to decide how much medical cannabis producers are allowed to grow at any given time. Until recently, Licensed Non-Profit Producers (LNPP) could have up to 450 plants, but in March the state issued an emergency rule allowing producers to grow five times that amount—or up to 2,500 plants—after a drawn-out lawsuit. Public records obtained by NM Political Report reveal some of the discussions between producers, patients and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office during the days leading up to the emergency rule. Many of those conversations were redacted due to executive and attorney-client privilege. But, the documents still shed light on the decision by DOH Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel to temporarily increase the plant counts.
Gov. Lujan Grisham signed into law a medical cannabis expansion about two weeks ago which, among other things, will protect some medical cannabis patients. While it’s still unclear if those protections extend to all incarcerated medical cannabis patients, the governor’s office believes it does not. The new law, which goes into effect on June 14, states that medical cannabis patients who are on probation, parole or are in the custody of state or local law enforcement, pending a trial, will not be denied their medication. Further, the soon-to-be law states that medical cannabis should be viewed no differently than traditional prescription medication. Some say the law would apply to inmates, but the bill’s sponsor and now the governor’s office say it only applies to those awaiting trial or serving out probation or parole.
Just days after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed broad changes to New Mexico’s medical cannabis into law, there are already questions surrounding whether inmates serving out sentences are allowed to use medical cannabis. Senate Bill 406, which the governor signed last week, included protections against job termination and loss of child custody for merely being a patient in the program. A lot of those protections are already in practice, but not written into law—like whether those on probation or parole can be medical cannabis patients. According to a written Department of Corrections policy, probationers or parolees with a valid medical cannabis card will get a pass of sorts for testing positive for the substance. Now, the law explicitly states that those on probation or parole are allowed to use medical cannabis.
New Mexico is set to see some sweeping changes to its medical cannabis law. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 406 into law which is the first major statutorial change to the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act since it was enacted in 2007. The Senate bill made broad changes to the program that range from allowing medical cannabis in schools to allowing licensed manufacturers to process home-grown medical cannabis. While some changes are straightforward, others will require the state Department of Health, which oversees the Medical Cannabis Program, to promulgate new rules. Here’s a breakdown of everything SB 406 does:
Medical cannabis in schools
By June 14, medical cannabis will be allowed on some public school campuses under certain circumstances.
A medical advisory panel on Friday said, for the third time, opioid use disorder should be a qualifying condition for medical cannabis—but this time the cabinet secretary tasked with final approval is expected to agree. The New Mexico Medical Cannabis Advisory Board voted unanimously to add opioid addiction to the list of 22 conditions already allowed. Only four other states allow patients to use cannabis to help alleviate symptoms of opioid use disorder. Dr. Laura Brown, the board’s chair, signaled that the Department of Health is changing course when it comes to medical cannabis under newly appointed Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel. A Medical Cannabis Advisory Board meeting on March 29, 2019.
A series of possible changes to the Medical Cannabis Program could take place in New Mexico, pending a signature from the governor and decisions from the state Department of Health. DOH officials are in a holding pattern of sorts, waiting for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to decide whether or not to sign a key medical cannabis bill and to hear recommendations from the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board regarding what conditions qualify for medical cannabis use. Update: Medical panel approves opioid use disorder for cannabis, DOH expected to approve
Lujan Grisham has until the end of next week to decide on Senate Bill 406, which would clarify the state’s medical cannabis law. But on Friday a medical panel will hear what the public wants when it comes to expanding qualifying conditions. Public Petitions
The Drug Policy Alliance and other groups have long proposed that medical cannabis may help combat Opioid Use Disorder or severe addiction to opioids, which has been a problem in New Mexico for decades.
After Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was elected and New Mexico’s House of Representatives saw a major increase of Democrats last fall, many New Mexicans speculated whether the state would also see cannabis legalization in 2019. The short answer was ultimately, no. But, the legislature enacted some major changes to the existing medical cannabis law and took at least one step towards decreasing jail time for the use or possession of cannabis. Medical cannabis in schools (SB 204)
Senate Bill 204, sponsored by Albuquerque Sens. Candace Gould, a Republican, and Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat, and Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, would allow some students to use medical cannabis while at school.
More New Mexicans would qualify for medical marijuana, and the 70,000-plus patients already in the state’s medical cannabis program would have to deal with less paperwork under legislation approved by the state Legislature and sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. On Friday, the House passed Senate Bill 406, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, which would add more qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use and would allow patients in the program to renew their medical cannabis registry identification cards every three years instead of every year as now required. The Senate passed the bill the previous week. Also last week, the House passed Senate Bill 404, sponsored by Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque. which also would make medical cannabis cards good for three years.
The scramble to reach 2,500 has begun. More than a quarter of medical cannabis producers in New Mexico have already applied to increase their grow operations to 2,500 plants since the state announced, through an emergency rule change, it would allow plant increases a week ago. Of the 35 registered Licensed Non-Profit Producers (LNPP), 12 applied to increase the number of their plants and nine said they they intend to grow the maximum number of plants. That could mean 26,000 plants across the state, not counting the plants grown by patients who grow their own cannabis with a Personal Production License. That’s about double what the Department of Health reported in production at the end of 2018.
New Mexico medical cannabis producers can have up to 2,500 plants at any given time—for now. In a late afternoon email, the state’s Medical Cannabis Program informed licensed producers it was enacting an emergency rule and increasing plant limits to five times the original amount. Read more about this:Despite court order, still no clarity on medical cannabis plant count
The abrupt change comes after months of litigation and a court order for the state to come up with a plant limit backed by data. The program’s director Kenny Vigil addressed the judge’s decision and said a permanent rule will come within six months. “This is a temporary regulation that will be in place until DOH promulgates, within 180 days, a formal rule establishing plant count in the state pursuant to the rules of Judge Thomson’s order and commensurate with patient needs and anticipated increases in demand,” Vigil wrote in his email.