April 16, 2019

Gov’s office says new law doesn’t mean inmates can get medical cannabis

Gov. Lujan Grisham signed into law a medical cannabis expansion about two weeks ago which, among other things, will protect some medical cannabis patients. While it’s still unclear if those protections extend to all incarcerated medical cannabis patients, the governor’s office believes it does not.

The new law, which goes into effect on June 14, states that medical cannabis patients who are on probation, parole or are in the custody of state or local law enforcement, pending a trial, will not be denied their medication. Further, the soon-to-be law states that medical cannabis should be viewed no differently than traditional prescription medication. Some say the law would apply to inmates, but the bill’s sponsor and now the governor’s office say it only applies to those awaiting trial or serving out probation or parole.

“Our office feels the most reasonable interpretation is consistent with what was expressed to you by Sen. Ortiz y Pino,” Lujan Grisham’s spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said.

Stelnicki was referring to a statement Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino gave to NM Political Report last week regarding his interpretation of the bill he sponsored.

“The way I read it, while they’re awaiting trial if they’re held they can still keep using their medicine if they have a card,” Ortiz y Pino said last week. “After their sentence, then they would be subject to the same restrictions that anybody would be in jail or prison.”

Which could mean patients would get access to cannabis before and after their sentence, but not while they are serving it.

The state’s Corrections Department does not currently have a permanent secretary, so it is unclear how the department will handle the specifics of the new law.

But, drug policy advocate and New Mexico attorney Brett Phelps said the law is ambiguous enough that the issue could eventually go to court.  

“I think there’s enough there to take it to a judge and have them make a ruling on it,” Phelps said.

Phelps said under the new law, incarcerated medical cannabis patients might have a strong case.

“The intent of the broader law is about increasing access for people who are medically qualified,” Phelps said.

But, he added, the corrections department shouldn’t expect a lawsuit right away. The law expansion doesn’t go into effect for another two months.