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.
On April 20, a popular day for cannabis enthusiasts, headlines were filled with pot puns, promises of legalization from politicians and an announcement that Albuquerque ended criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. But after the smoke cleared, some medical cannabis advocates are still holding their breath, waiting to hear from New Mexico’s top medical cannabis decision maker on whether or not opioid addicts can legally obtain derivatives of the plant to aid in trying to defeat an opioid addiction. New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher is expected to decide soon whether to accept or reject, for the third time, a recommendation from a board of medical professionals to add opioid use disorder to the list of 21 conditions that currently qualify someone to be a part of the state’s medical cannabis program. Gallagher has not indicated publicly if she will add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions. Documents obtained by NM Political Report, through an Inspection of Public Records Act request, show staff discussions about recommended conditions an advisory board sent to Gallagher.
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.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The New Mexico Department of Health says 47,000 children in the state suffer from asthma, and that’s why a coalition wants funds from the Volkswagen emissions-test settlement spent to transition diesel school buses to electric. A group will rally in Albuquerque Thursday to lobby for the $18 million owed to New Mexico by Volkswagen after the auto company was found cheating on federal emission laws. Liliana Castillo, a spokeswoman for the Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund, says the unexpected windfall should be used to phase out dirty diesel school buses for clean, electric buses. “In New Mexico, there are approximately 166,000 kids who ride school buses to over 89 school districts, which serve over 300,000 students, over half of whom are children of color,” she points out. “That explains, that’s part of why there are more than 1 in 11 children in New Mexico who suffer from asthma.”
New Mexico is among the worst states when it comes to identifying all the children who have been poisoned by lead. That’s according to a study published last week in Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Nationwide, only 64 percent of lead-poisoned children under the age of five are identified by testing. In New Mexico, that number is much lower—just five percent. Lead paint and lead additive in gasoline were banned decades ago.
A prominent Albuquerque medical cannabis producer will not have to shut its doors next week during what he says is one of his busiest days of the year. This comes after Santa Fe Judge David Thompson ruled Monday that Ultra Health must pay a $100 fine for bringing a cannabis seedling plant to the New Mexico State Fair last year. But Ultra Health will not have to close down for five days, as the state originally ordered to punish the medical cannabis producer for putting the plant on public display. The ruling comes after a nearly seven-month long legal battle between the company and the New Mexico Department of Health. Ultra Health brought a non flowering cannabis plant to the New Mexico State Fair in September 2016 and was quickly told to remove it by fair officials.
Yesterday, we wrote about attempts to get answers from the New Mexico Department of Health about elevated lead levels in children. In December, Reuters published a map on childhood lead poisoning across the nation. The story, with an accompanying map, “Off the Charts: The thousands of U.S. locales where lead poisoning is worse than Flint,” looked at where children were tested for lead and how many had high levels of the toxic metal in their blood. Related story: State remains silent on lead poisoning data
According to Reuters, about 2.5 percent of American infants and children six years-old and younger have elevated lead levels in their blood. In Flint, a city grappling with lead contamination from its water system, 5 percent of the children screened had elevated levels.
In December, Reuters published a map on childhood lead poisoning across the nation. The story and accompanying map, “Off the Charts: The thousands of U.S. locales where lead poisoning is worse than Flint,” looked at where children were tested for lead and how many had high levels of the metal in their blood. Severe lead poisoning can lead to seizures, coma and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For children, there is no such thing as a safe exposure to lead, which causes permanent neurological damage and behavioral disorders. Even though lead paint and lead additive in gasoline were banned decades ago, the ongoing Flint, Michigan emergency highlighted that lead poisoning is still a problem in the United States.
A New Mexico state agency and a medical cannabis company argued in a state district court Monday morning whether the state’s punishment of the company was warranted. Santa Fe District Court Judge David Thompson heard from both the state’s Department of Health (DOH) and a lawyer representing medical cannabis producer New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health about whether the company will have to shut down retail operations for five days later this month. The department claims Ultra Health violated the state’s medical cannabis program rules by moving a plant out of their approved growing and retail facilities and into the public. The pending sanction is a result of a cannabis plant Ultra Health used in an exhibit at the New Mexico State Fair last September. The plant Ultra Health brought to the State Fair was non-flowering, meaning it was not mature enough to be used for consumption..
In New Mexico, lawmakers have debated acceptable uses of medical marijuana and some have questioned if cannabis producers are allowed to have enough medical cannabis to qualify as an “adequate supply” for patients. While politicians and medical cannabis advocates in Santa Fe argue over appropriate plant numbers, getting actual numbers from the agency that governs the program is difficult—despite the fact that producers are required to use specific software to track all transactions. Despite the plethora of debates and discussion, cannabis transaction data from the state is either unavailable or state employees do not know how to access it. In almost every legislative discussion about New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program, producers and patients sell their respective claims on how much medical cannabis should be available in the state. Depending on what day and who is speaking, the state could be in a shortage that amounts to a crisis or have such a glut of cannabis that producers have to unload product to each other.