June 14, 2019

Does NM cannabis law extend to non-residents?

A recent expansion of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis through rule changes will likely result in a higher number of patients in New Mexico. But a law that goes into effect on Friday could also result in a new pool of patients—non-residents of New Mexico.  

Some changes to the law include protections from discrimination for patients, reciprocity with other states’ medical cannabis programs and an extended life span of medical cannabis cards. But perhaps the most significant and, until now, overlooked change to the law is who qualifies for medical cannabis cards. As of Friday, the definition of a “qualified patient” will no longer include the term “resident of New Mexico.” That term was replaced with “person.”

Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, noticed the change in language and launched a campaign targeted towards residents of Texas who live close to New Mexico. According to Ultra Health, the company bought ad space with three local radio stations in the southeast part of New Mexico. Those ads, Rodriguez said, are meant to inform Texas residents that they can enroll in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program.

Update: State says NM’s medical cannabis cards only for residents

This is not the first time Rodriguez spotted ambiguous or overlooked language in the new law. Earlier this year, he told NM Political Report that the new law could be interpreted to include inmates as medical cannabis patients. At least one lawmaker and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office said Rodriguez was off-base in that interpretation, but Rodriguez said in this case there is no other way to interpret the change

“This is probably the single most definitive language in the bill,” Rodriguez said.

The impacts of a potential expansion of medical cannabis to patients outside New Mexico are hard to predict. In January the Medical Cannabis Program temporarily increased plant limits for producers from 450 to 2,500. Now the state is proposing a permanent plant count to 1,750 per producer.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said at publication time that the department was still in the process of making a legal determination regarding the wording change.

Rodriguez said he expects patient numbers to double in size, raising the question of whether the state’s proposed permanent plant count will be sufficient. Rodriguez said with the addition of six new qualifying conditions and patients from out of state, it will be “nearly impossible” for the state to meet the needs of patients.

But it is not just Texans that may be inclined to come to New Mexico for medical cannabis. Arizona has a medical cannabis program, but medical cannabis cards there cost $150 annually. New Mexico medical cannabis cards are free.

And as more medical cannabis states allow for reciprocity, Rodriguez said New Mexico could see patients coming from other medical cannabis states to take advantage of a free card and then use it in their home state.

The effects of allowing out of state patients access to New Mexico’s program are intertwined with other parts of the new law. For example, the law now allows for “consumption areas” for medical cannabis albeit after the Department of Health promulgates rules. Those “consumption areas” could prove useful for out of state patients who need to medicate, but do not want to travel with cannabis, which is still federally illegal and cannot be transported across state lines.

Intent of the law

The Department of Health may have been caught off guard by the new language in the law, but the change appeared in the initial draft of the bill as opposed to being a last minute change.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, told NM Political Report that the intention of removing “residents of New Mexico” was to allow for reciprocity.

“If we restricted medical cannabis purchases in NM to only New Mexico residents, reciprocity wouldn’t be possible,” Ortiz y Pino said. “Anyone purchasing medical cannabis here will still have to hold a valid medical cannabis card, either from New Mexico or another medical cannabis state.”

Meanwhile, Rodriguez is capitalizing on the new language. He said Ultra Health plans to open two new dispensaries on Saturday along the Texas-New Mexico border, Clayton in the northern part of the state and one in Sunland Park which borders both Texas and Mexico. Sunland Park, in particular, Rodriguez said, could also serve foriegn nationals who travel back and forth between the United States and Mexico.

Rodriguez said he knows of at least 100 potential patients from Texas who plan to apply for a New Mexico medical cannabis card over the weekend.