February 24, 2016

Med pot transparency rules come with security concerns

Medical marijuana prescription

At least one medical marijuana producer is hesitant about new transparency rules that open government advocates are lauding.

Medical marijuana prescription

Medical marijuana prescription

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. He said marijuana is generally “very easily fenceable,” or can be sold easily on the streets.

“The fact is, it’s an exposure that is unfortunate,” Ford said of the making facility addresses public.

Ford said he is concerned that many producers have not taken proper security measures to protect themselves from theft. Of one facility he drove past, Ford said, “they didn’t even have a fence around their facility.”

The kind of transparency Ford wants to see is how producers are helping patients and complying with state regulations.

“I want to see an organization  that is responsible for holding a state issued license,” Ford said of what should be public information.

The rule change was a result of a culmination of Gov. Susana Martinez, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG) and independent watchdog journalist Peter St. Cyr all pushing for more transparency in the state’s medical cannabis program.

Executive Director Susan Boe said NMFOG filed a lawsuit to release names of producers around the same time that Martinez publicly pushed for her DOH Secretary to change the agency’s policies.

“We feel very pleased,” Boe said of her organization.

Boe said NMFOG can appreciate concerns over security but that there are counter arguments, namely the safety of residents in surrounding areas.

“Neighbors deserve to know who’s living next door,” Boe said.

Boe told NM Political Report the lawsuit argued regulations from DOH went beyond what was originally written in statute when the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act became law in 2007. Boe said privacy exemptions need to be clearly written in law; instead these were done by rule within the DOH.

“We think that’s a policy discussion that needs to be discussed by the Legislature,” Boe said.

That won’t be so easy, said Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park. McCamley has pushed for legalization of recreational marijuana, including in this year’s legislative session. Besides the fact that the full state Legislature won’t meet until 2017, barring a special session, McCamley said this type of change probably won’t be quick.

“A lot of times it takes multiple years to get things done,” McCamley said.

McCamley also noted that legislative discussions on medical cannabis in recent years have not focused on transparency, but instead on increased regulations.

McCamley said another issue with passing any legislation regarding medical cannabis is Martinez’s guarded nature on the subject.

“The governor has been very reticent to talk about this issue publicly,” McCamley said.

McCamley speculated on a number of reasons that producers might be hesitant to release some information, including the Department of Homeland Security and a new presidential administration potentially cracking down on medical marijuana across the country. McCamley also said there are legitimate safety concerns for those who live or work close to production facilities.

McCamley suggested the state takes a wait and see approach and that producers prepare to sell their concerns to the Legislature next year.

“If the producers are having a real problem with this,” McCamley said, “then a presentation and discussion would be very responsible.”