June 7, 2019

NM adds opioid use disorder, other conditions to medical cannabis program

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As expected, the head of New Mexico’s Department of Health approved opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition to use medical cannabis.

In an announcement on Thursday, DOH Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel said she accepted a recommendation from the state’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to include opioid use disorder and five other conditions as reasons to grant a medical card for medical cannabis use.

“Adding these conditions to the Medical Cannabis Program provides medical providers new tools for relieving symptoms that may otherwise be difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to relieve through conventional means,” Kunkel said in a statement. “Thousands of New Mexicans may find relief from their symptoms through medical cannabis that they can’t get anywhere else.”

Kunkel also approved Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disorder and three degenerative neurological disorders—Friedreich’s ataxia, Lewy body disease, and spinal muscular atrophy.

The approval of those six conditions is the latest change in the Medical Cannabis Program since the change in administrations. Former Gov. Susana Martinez and her DOH Secretary Lynn Gallagher rejected recommendations from the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board on these conditions. Gallagher declined to accept multiple recommendations from the board and at least once asked staff doctors to do additional research on using medical cannabis for opioid use disorder. The board’s chair, Dr. Laura Brown expressed her frustration with Gallagher during one of the last board meetings before Martinez left office.

“Rather than engage directly with the MCAB regarding its recommendations, it appears that [Gallagher] has recruited NMDOH physicians to research and refute MCAB medical qualifying condition recommendations,” Brown said.

But, during her campaign Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vowed to add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions.

“We need to explore and pursue every available means of responding to the health and wellness needs of our neighbors here in New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement on Thursday. “Compassion must guide our decision-making. Today marks an important and long-overdue step forward after too many years of status quo.”

Kunkel did not approve one condition recommended by the board. In March the advisory board voted to add substance abuse disorder, a catchall that would have included substances like nicotine and alcohol, but Kunkel said the term substance abuse disorder is too broad and could  actually include cannabis use disorder.

“Although I am in strong support for harm reduction in general, harm reduction strategies are not the same for everything included as a substance under this umbrella, Kunkel wrote in her final decision. “Substance Use Disorder could be revisited in the future after additional clarification of this broad term.”

More changes from the department are expected in the next few months as a new law, which goes into place in July, requires rule changes in the Medical Cannabis Program. Earlier this year the department also implemented an emergency rule change to raise plant limits for medical cannabis producers. That rule expires in August.