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.
The New Mexico State Auditor’s Office called on two state agencies to look into a medical cannabis executive director who is accused of a conflict of interest related to audits. In letters to the Department of Health and the Public Accountancy Board, a group within the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department that oversees public accountants, the state Auditor’s office expressed concern that Vivian Moore, a certified public accountant, may have created a conflict of interest by conducting independent audits of medical cannabis producers. This is because Moore also is the executive director of Doña Ana County-based Mother Earth Herbs, Inc.
Mother Earth Herbs, Inc. is a medical marijuana distributor licensed by the state. The letters came from Special Investigations Director Kevin Sourisseau. Sourisseau wrote that his office was made aware of “independence issues” concerning Moore and the audits she has allegedly performed for other producers.
At least one medical marijuana producer is hesitant about new transparency rules that open government advocates are lauding. Earlier this week, the New Mexico Department of Health announced a change to a confidentiality provision for medical marijuana producers. For more than a year, some advocates have pushed the department to release names and other information of producers around the state, citing a state public records law. According to the DOH website, only personal information of employees and producers, such as social security numbers and personal addresses, will be kept confidential. Willie Ford, executive director of Reynold Greenleaf & Associates, which manages non-profit producers, told NM Political Report that he is a supporter of transparency, but is not pleased with the release of information like grow locations.
New Mexico’s Attorney General is advocating for the state to disclose names of medical marijuana producers to the public. In a Dec. 31 letter written to state Medical Cannabis Program Patient Services Manager Andrea Sundberg, Attorney General Hector Balderas notes the Health Department’s proposal to disclose producers while keeping applications for personal production licenses confidential and pending non-profit producer applications private until the end of the application period. The Health Department recently agreed to allow the public to see medical marijuana producer licenses with those caveats. “We believe that this regulation not only exceeds the Department of Health’s statutory authority to promulgate rules, but also circumvents the mandates and intent of the IPRA,” Balderas writes.
The New Mexico Department of Health released a list of proposed rule changes regarding medical marijuana licensing and production on Thursday. If approved by department secretary Retta Ward, the new rules would require more information from cannabis producers, change certain testing requirements and allow more flexibility to doctors when prescribing medical cannabis. The changes will be presented to the advisory board next month where members of the public will have their chance to voice concerns. One stakeholder said he will be there to ask for more clarification, specifically from the producer standpoint. Willie Ford, executive director of Reynold Greenleaf & Associates, told NM Political Report that he was “pleasantly surprised” at the action by the department but that there needs to be more discussion.
A local watchdog journalist and government transparency advocate was able to dig up names of potential medical marijuana producers primarily through his own searches instead of official records requests. Peter St. Cyr, an independent journalist, published some names of people that may have applied to become the next round of medical marijuana growers and sellers in New Mexico in the Santa Fe Reporter. He and other transparency advocates have argued these should be public, while Department of Health regulations keep them secret. St.
A former sheriff who previously lobbied against medical marijuana in New Mexico now wants a piece of the weed pie. Darren White, whose law enforcement credentials include stints as cabinet secretary for the Department of Public Safety, Bernalillo County Sheriff and public safety director for the City of Albuquerque, is one of eight names serving as a board of director with Purlife, which filed an application with the state to open a medical marijuana nonprofit. White’s name came up in a database of medical marijuana applicants published this week by the Santa Fe Reporter. A listing on the Secretary of State’s website shows a May 2014 incorporation date for Purlife and lists its “character of affairs” as “conducting medical marijuana sales in New Mexico.” White is listed as one of eight directors of the company. The state Department of Health, which runs the Medical Cannabis Program, announced this week that it narrowed a pool of 86 applicants for new medical marijuana producer licenses to 17 finalists.
New Mexico employers must compensate workers who are medical marijuana patients for the cost of the medical marijuana, according to a recent ruling from the state Court of Appeals. On Friday, June 26, the court concluded that American General Media had improperly blocked workers’ compensation for medical marijuana for one of its employees who suffered from chronic pain. The court also ruled that federal law classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 illegal substance doesn’t supersede New Mexico’s law allowing marijuana use for medical purposes. The case concerned Sandra Lewis, who has suffered from chronic pain after sustaining a work-related injury in 1998. She has been enrolled in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program since 2010.
A Canadian marijuana company will not acquire a New Mexico medical marijuana nonprofit after all. Nutritional High, the Toronto-based company focused on creating a high-level brand of cannabis-infused edibles, canceled its deal to buy 51 shares of Santa Fe-based Sacred Garden, one of 23 state-sanctioned medical cannabis producers. In a statement released Tuesday, Nutritional High said its decision was based on “various factors,” including “the due diligence process, larger opportunities in other states” and “a decision to maintain the Company’s stated focus on marijuana oils, extracts and edibles while limiting exposure to risks inherent in marijuana growing.”
“Given the small size of the New Mexico market in relation to the costs to acquire Zephyr, to build out its grow capabilities, and to build out our edibles facility using the quality control and dosing methods we have been, we have decided to focus our financial resources on other pipeline opportunities,” Nutritional High CEO David Posner said in the statement. The reversal comes after a high level of scrutiny from the state’s medical marijuana community over the planned acquisition. Tim Scott, president of New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Alliance, told New Mexico Political Report last month that he feared the deal could lead to consolidation and monopolization of the local industry.
A Santa Fe district court judge struck down a state rule that required medical patients to exhaust “standard treatments” before entering the Medical Cannabis Program. The case that Judge David Thomson ruled on earlier this week involved the state Department of Health’s rejection of a post-traumatic stress disorder patient’s application to the Medical Cannabis Program based on the fact that the patient’s doctor, Carola Kieve, didn’t submit enough medical records with the application and didn’t exhaust other medical treatments first. Kieve filed the lawsuit more than a year ago. She also charged that Dr. Stan Rosenberg, director of the health department’s Medical Cannabis Program, had a conflict of interest because of his role heading Albuquerque Integrative Medicine. There, Rosenberg refers his own patients to the medical marijuana program.