New Mexico, along with most of the U.S., is struggling to find a way to combat opioid abuse, overdoses and death, a problem often referred to as an epidemic or crisis. One possible solution, according to a recent study, is using cannabis to help fight the addictions to deadly addictive drugs like heroin or prescription drugs. New Mexico Secretary of Health Lynn Gallagher has already shot down the possibility of adding opioid use disorder or substance abuse disorder to the list of 21 qualifying conditions for medical cannabis numerous times. Internal documents show the New Mexico Department of Health, which oversees the medical cannabis program, will likely disapprove it for opioid use disorder again. The revelation that DOH officials have compiled more than a dozen studies that show cannabis not only doesn’t help addiction, but worsens it, has at least one producer in polite disagreement with the Martinez administration and two others openly frustrated.
New Mexico lawmakers injected a dose of political pressure Monday into an unwavering but so far unsuccessful effort to add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in New Mexico. State Sen. Jeff Steinborn and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, both Democrats from Las Cruces, held a news conference at the Roundhouse to bring attention to companion memorials they are sponsoring, calling on Department of Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher to allow people with opioid dependence to obtain medical marijuana to help them break the chains of their addiction. “It is past time that this secretary do this,” Steinborn said. “People are dying every day in the state of New Mexico from opioid abuse, and medical marijuana has proven to be a safer treatment for any underlying conditions and certainly, hopefully, to step people down from opioid addiction into something safer that won’t kill them.” Twice, the state Medical Cannabis Program’s advisory board has recommended medical marijuana be allowed as a treatment for opioid addiction.
The U.S. Department of Justice does not appear to be concerned with medical cannabis producers or patients, including those in New Mexico, despite a memo Thursday from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session that signaled a federal crackdown on legal marijuana. Sessions’ memo officially rescinded guidance from the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama regarding cannabis. Instead, Sessions wrote, each U.S. Attorney has the discretion to determine which types of cannabis-related cases should be federally prosecuted. Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico James Tierney did not respond to a request for comment. New Mexico law only allows for medical cannabis use, which was not specifically addressed in Session’s memo.
A prominent medical cannabis producer in New Mexico filed a federal lawsuit against officials with the state agency that oversees the New Mexico State Fair and owns the fairgrounds. In the complaint filed Wednesday, New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health accused top staffers with Expo New Mexico along with the chair of the state fair board of violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution for barring the medical cannabis company from bringing cannabis-related materials to an educational booth later this year. Chairman of the New Mexico State Fair Commission Larry Kennedy, Expo New Mexico General Manager Dan Mourning and Concessions Department Director Raina Bingham are named as defendants in the case. The state fair officials, according to the lawsuit, “implicitly chilled” Ultra Health’s “clearly established rights to freedom of speech and expression.” New Mexico Expo officials, though, said they have the authority to implement their own rules and regulations.
Keeping tabs on the amount of medical cannabis available throughout the state may seem straightforward, but a review of quarterly reports seem to show more cannabis available for sale than what was grown or produced. While the state’s Department of Health requires producers to accurately track every gram of cannabis—beginning with harvesting and ending with sales—reports from some producers appear to have glaring discrepancies. Through a review of quarterly reports, NM Political Report found that at least five medical cannabis producers who reported sales exceeding the amount of cannabis that they produced. Those five producers reported selling a combined 676,272 grams of cannabis between January and March, but should have only had a combined 475,028 grams available to sell during that period. This means more than 200,000 grams, or 44 pounds, of medical cannabis sold in New Mexico in three months with almost no accounting of where it came from.
A state agency that helps compensate victims of crimes was called out by the U.S. Department of Justice for using federal grant money to reimburse victims for medical cannabis purchases. The U.S. Office of the Inspector General released its audit of the New Mexico’s Crime Victims Reparation Commission this week, and criticized the agency. Cannabis, the federal agency said, is still illegal on a federal level. “While medical marijuana is legal in the State of New Mexico, federal law does not recognize or protect the possession or use of medical marijuana,” the audit read. “As a result, medical marijuana is an unallowable expenditure and cannot be paid for with federal grant funds.”
The Office of the Inspector General recommended the state commission change its procedures to make sure federal money does not pay for cannabis.
Eight years ago, Sean Gabaldon didn’t think too much about cancer. As a high school basketball coach he strived to be an example of health to the boys on his team. One day he went to urgent care because his body felt as if he had “done a bunch of sit ups.” After a series of scans that day, doctors diagnosed Gabaldon with stage-four Burkitt lymphoma, a rare form of cancer. Gabaldon never went back to work as a teacher and coach after that initial diagnosis. “It moved so quick, I literally went home for the weekend and never came back,” Gabaldon said.
A bill that would update the state’s medical cannabis law could see some changes before it’s ever heard in a legislative committee. Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, prefiled his aptly named Medical Marijuana Changes bill last month. Now McSorley is working with a group of producers and patient advocates to make changes to his bill one week before the legislative session starts. McSorley told NM Political Report he wants to add opioid addiction to the list of medical conditions that qualify patients to buy cannabis. He also said he wants to allow all veterans to use cannabis medicinally.
TAOS — Medical cannabis patients, producers and advocates met with a legislative committee Monday afternoon to discuss issues New Mexico’s medical marijuana program. About 50 people gathered in the Taos County Commission Chambers for a Legislative Health & Human Services Committee for an opportunity to hear from New Mexico Department of Health Secretary-Designate Lynn Gallagher regarding patient card wait times, provider plant limits and organizational issues within the department. Gallagher defended the program, which has been under fire for long wait times for medical cannabis cards, and told legislators her department was making progress in improving the medical cannabis program by increasing plant limits and how much marijuana patients can possess. “We’re not perfect but we are moving in a forward, positive direction,” Gallagher told lawmakers. The entire committee meeting lasted more than five hours and only covered medical marijuana, but in the last hour, lawmakers asked pointed questions about the program and Gallagher’s plans for the future.
An explosion ripped through a Santa Fe medical cannabis dispensary last summer, sending two workers to the hospital with severe burns. Months later after an investigation, the New Mexico Environment Department released surveillance video of the explosion. The incident took place while two workers at New MexiCann Natural Medicine were attempting to extract THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, using butane. The butane ignited, and video shows two workers frantically trying to flee the flame-filled room. We’ve embedded the video below, but be warned that it may be difficult to watch for some.