Brief public hearing focused on cannabis testing standards, additional meeting scheduled

Snowy and icy roads Friday morning made for a short, and yet to be completed, public comment period for medical cannabis rule changes. 

New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program (MCP), which is run by the state Department of Health, convened a meeting for public comments on a number of proposed changes, including patient reciprocity, consumption areas and testing standards. The program’s director, Dominick Zurlo, began the meeting by announcing a second meeting to give those who could not make it due to the weather a chance to add input. Friday’s meeting was only about an hour long and comments largely focused on testing standards and mostly came from producers. 

Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, told the MCP that the proposed microbiological, heavy metal and pesticide testing and labeling standards were problematic. 

“We feel like labeling is a very important component, but the labeling restrictions are simply unrealistic for what needs to go on a vast amount of products that are sold as medicine,” Lewinger said. 

Lewinger added that the increased amount of product producers are required to pull for testing would not only harm producers, but would increase costs to patients. 

Jennifer Merryman, from Mountaintop Extracts, agreed with Lewinger about testing sample sizes and suggested the MCP have more frequent and thorough conversations with those in the medical cannabis industry before proposing rules. 

“Perhaps we could add a little bit of local, New Mexico common sense,” Merryman said. “We’re all willing to work with you.”

Zurlo later invited those in the crowd to reach out to him with their concerns. 

Merryman told NM Political Report the proposed rules would significantly cut into the supply of smaller production companies. 

“Normally we send one and a half grams, sometimes [testing labs] will ask for two grams but not anymore than that per batch testing,” Merryman said. “Now, they’re looking to have a 23 gram sample per batch test.”

She said that standard would hurt small operations who have smaller yields. 

“That’s taking away product from that dispensary who has to compensate the loss of that money on to the patient,” Merryman said. 

Other producers also spoke about their concerns about labeling and testing standards and their common message was that increased sample sizes would ultimately equal higher prices for patients. 

What was almost non-existent in the meeting were the topics of patient reciprocity, producer fee structures and consumption areas.

Canadian firm drops acquisition of NM marijuana nonprofit

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.

Consolidating and cashing in on medical marijuana

[box]© New Mexico Political Report, 2015. Contact editor@nmpoliticalreport.com for info on republishing.[/box] legalization is likely far off in New Mexico, but you wouldn’t know it from the way some businesses are acting. Recent news of a Canadian company’s encroachment into Santa Fe spawned backlash from those critical of an out-of-state, out-of-country company attempting to get a piece of New Mexicos’ medical marijuana industry. Last month, Toronto-based Nutritional High announced that it would be acquiring 51 percent of shares from and assuming management operations of Sacred Garden, a Santa Fe nonprofit medical marijuana producer that’s been operating for nearly five years. The plan drew immediate backlash from patient advocates and others in the industry.