June 14, 2019

State says NM’s medical cannabis cards only for residents

Photo Credit: ChelseyHerba Flickr via Compfight cc

The New Mexico Department of Public Health has made it clear—only New Mexico residents  can enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program.

“Persons who are not residents of New Mexico cannot be enrolled in the NM Medical Cannabis Program,” the department said in a statement to NM Political Report Friday.

The statement came after the CEO of a prominent medical cannabis producer said he believes a change in the law allows for out-of-state patients to enroll in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program. Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of Ultra Health, previously told NM Political Report he bought radio ads in the southeast part of New Mexico to inform those in west Texas they can now apply to become a medical cannabis patient. Cannabis is illegal in Texas for all uses, including medical.

Related: Does NM cannabis law extend to non-residents?

A major update to New Mexico’s medical cannabis law included the removal of the term “resident of New Mexico,” replaced with “person,” in the definition of “qualified patient.”

“The Department of Health does not interpret this edit to mean that the Legislature intended for persons out of state to be able to enroll in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program,” the statement from the department said.

The statement went on to say that the addition of “person” was because early drafts of the bill considered reciprocal patients, or patients who are part of another state’s medical cannabis program, to be in the “qualified patients” category. The final bill signed into law had a seperate reciprocation section to address already-qualified patients from other states.

The statement from the Department of Health also said adding non-residents to the list of New Mexico patients would encourage patients to break the law.

“To allow non-New Mexico residents to routinely access the New Mexico medical cannabis market would encourage the transport of cannabis across state lines, in violation of both federal law and the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, which emphasizes in multiple passages that the program must be operated within the boundaries of the state of New Mexico,” the statement said.

In response, Rodriguez said he’s confident his reading of the law is right and double-checked with his attorney, Brian Egolf, who also serves as New Mexico’s Speaker of the House. But Rodriguez stressed that Egolf’s advice came in his capacity as a private attorney, not one of the top elected officials in the state.

“[Eglof] said the matter is clear as day and I’m going to rely on my counsel’s advice and we’ll act accordingly,” Rodriguez said.

What’s still unclear is exactly what happens next after the dueling legal interpretations.

Rodriguez, who has taken the state to court a handful of times over medical cannabis, said Ultra Health is prepared to financially help in a lawsuit against the state.

“There is no question that Ultra Health will, if it has to, spend capital to make sure that patients are fully able to exercise their rights,” Rodriguez said.

He also accused the department of being disingenuous in their explanation for why the Legislature added “person” to the law.

“I think [the department is] simply trying to craft an answer that will help delay them meeting their legal obligation,” Rodriguez said.  

Ultra Health still has ribbon cutting ceremonies in Clayton, NM and Sunland Park, NM planned for Saturday and Rodriguez said he’s still telling potential patients that he thinks they can enroll.

But the Department of Health, its statement, reiterated that the Medical Cannabis Program will not accept non-residents.

“In accordance with this statutory interpretation, department rules continue to require that qualified patients be residents of New Mexico, and require that producers and couriers verify that patients have a valid New Mexico-issued photo identification card.”