March 29, 2019

Medical panel approves opioid use disorder for cannabis, DOH expected to approve

A medical advisory panel on Friday said, for the third time, opioid use disorder should be a qualifying condition for medical cannabis—but this time the cabinet secretary tasked with final approval is expected to agree.

The New Mexico Medical Cannabis Advisory Board voted unanimously to add opioid addiction to the list of 22 conditions already allowed. Only four other states allow patients to use cannabis to help alleviate symptoms of opioid use disorder.

Dr. Laura Brown, the board’s chair, signaled that the Department of Health is changing course when it comes to medical cannabis under newly appointed Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel.

A Medical Cannabis Advisory Board meeting on March 29, 2019.

Brown told the audience that Kunkel was in full support of both the Medical Cannabis Program as well as the board and their recommendations, which Brown called a “refreshing change.” Brown also noted that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham communicated with DOH and the program that she believed opioid use disorder should be added as a qualifying condition. In fact, Brown said, the board had planned to meet in May, but “the directive was this needs to happen now.”

DOH spokesman David Morgan also said Kunkel would likely approve the addition of opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition.

“She expects that she will approve opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition,” Morgan said.

Drug Policy Alliance Policy Manager Jessica Gelay has worked to push the department to approve opioid use disorder for years. She said previous decisions to reject the addition by DOH were political but that she is “hopeful” and “encouraged” by a newly-helmed DOH.

The previous secretary, Lynn Gallagher, received the same recommendation twice, but denied it both times—once after seeking a second opinion from DOH medical staff

The advisory board also voted to recommend that DOH add the more broad “substance use disorder” to the list of qualifying conditions. This was the second time the board made this recommendation.

However, the board voted to not recommend adding being 65 years or older as a qualifying condition. Board members said they would like to see more studies and that many symptoms of aging are already covered in current qualifying conditions

The board tabled two other petitions, but noted they support each proposal.

One of those called for a proactive approach to keeping medical cannabis free of toxins and pesticides if lawmakers approve adult-use recreational cannabis.

The board also weighed-in on department rule changes to allow patients with self-grow licenses to take their cannabis to licensed manufacturers for processing into edible products or other extracts.   

A group of petitioners under the collective name People’s Manufacturing, LLC asked the board to recommend a change in rules to allow Personal Production License holders access to manufacturing. In other words, to allow those patients who grow their own medical cannabis to take it to a provider to turn the cannabis into extracts or derivatives. This type of change is already in a legislative proposal awaiting Lujan Grisham’s approval, so the board voted unanimously to table the petition while still supporting the idea.

Legislation awaiting action from the governor would extend the medical cannabis card renewal period to three years from the current one year, codify some definitions into law, allow “consumption areas” for patients and allow medical cannabis in schools for patients who are minors.

Kunkel also has a list of previously recommended conditions on her desk from advisory board meetings last year, including Alzheimer’s Disease, degenerative neurological disorder, autism spectrum disorder and nystagmus—a condition involving involuntary or uncontrolled eye movement. DOH told NM Political Report Kunkel would consider each of those recommendations on a case-by-case basis.

Correction: This story originally said that frontotemporal dementia was on the list of potential qualifying conditions on the desk of the Department of Health secretary instead of Alzheimer’s Disease and degenerative neurological disorder. The story also said originally the conditions were from only the December Medical Cannabis Advisory Board meeting, but included at least one, autism spectrum disorder, from a previous meeting.