July 25, 2019

NM cannabis producer, two from Texas asks court to rule on medical cards

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Three people, who are not residents of New Mexico, are asking a state district judge to compel the New Mexico Department of Health to allow them to receive New Mexico medical cannabis cards. 

The court filing is the latest in a back-and-forth between New Mexico medical cannabis producer Ultra Health and DOH. While Ultra Health is not one of the petitioners, the companies’ president and CEO Duke Rodriguez is one of the three seeking a New Mexico card. 

Rodriguez, a resident of Arizona, and two Texas residents argue that state law allows them access to a New Mexico medical cannabis card and that DOH cannot deny access to the program based on non-residency alone. 

“As of the date of this filing, the Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program has refused to issue registry identification cards to eligible qualified patients, and in so doing it has failed to perform a ministerial non-discretionary duty,” the court filing states.

The issue goes back to a bill passed in the 2019 legislative session, and later signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, which made sweeping changes to the state’s medical cannabis law. One change was in the definition of “qualified patient.” Prior to the changes this year, the law defined a qualified patient as a “resident of New Mexico.” Now, it simply defines a qualified patient as a “person.”

Both  Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor, and Lujan Grisham’s office told NM Political Report that the intention of the wording change was to allow for reciprocity with other states with medical cannabis programs. The new law also has a section outlining reciprocity and gives DOH until next year to come up with rules regarding that. 

But the three petitioners argue that the law change would accommodate those in the state for long work assignments, college students or those who spend long periods of time in the state, but do not qualify as a resident. Rodriguez falls in that last category. Officially a resident of Arizona, Rodriguez said he owns property in New Mexico and has a vehicle registered in the state. 

The other two petitioners are Harold Meyers of Dalhart, Texas, about 50 miles from the New Mexico border, and Laura Sias of El Paso, Texas. According to the court filing, Meyers spends about three days a week in New Mexico and Sias’ brother lives in Las Cruces. Both said they only intend to use medical cannabis in New Mexico. 

All three petitioners received a doctor’s recommendation and applied to become medical cannabis patients shortly after the law change went into effect. But the state did not actually deny their application. Instead, DOH put their applications on hold and asked for more documentation — in the form of a New Mexico ID or driver’s license and a valid New Mexico address.   

Texas does not have a medical cannabis program and has strict possession laws.    

Thursday’s court filing is not a lawsuit, but a writ of mandamus, or a request for a judge to take action. The judge assigned to the case may request a hearing or meeting with DOH but it is not required. 

Duke Rodriguez Petition for Writ of Mandamus DOH by New Mexico Political Report on Scribd