December 10, 2019

Cannabis advisory board meeting unable to address qualifying conditions due to lack of quorum

A state panel met but was unable to make any actual recommendations for adding more qualifying conditions to the list of reasons approved patients can use medical cannabis. 

The New Mexico Medical Cannabis Advisory Board heard thoughts and recommendations from a handful of medical cannabis patients on Tuesday on how to improve the Medical Cannabis Program. The board will send Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel their words of support for the dozens of patients and patient advocates who spoke about things like changing state statute to broaden who can use medical cannabis and social inequalities in who owns production companies. 

The advisory board was put in place through state law to hear from petitioners who want certain qualifying conditions added to the list of reasons patients can legally use medical cannabis. There are currently almost 30 qualifying conditions that range from chronic pain to post traumatic stress disorder. 

What began as a traditional advisory board meeting on Tuesday, evolved into a de facto listening session where patients and advocates aired their concerns about the program. All but one of the advisory board members attended the meeting by phone. But by the time the board got to the last three petitions, most of the board members left the call, resulting in a loss of quorum. 

The issues raised before the loss of quorum were general suggestions for the program and not conditions the board has authority to actually weigh-in on. But Medical Cannabis Program Director Dr. Dominick Zurlo said all was not lost.

“The advantage is that we still got to hear voices. Those [board] members who were able to stay and remain on the line were able to hear what patients are saying and what the different community members want. That will help them when they reconvene,” Zurlo said. “Just hearing that and getting to have that communication, even as a listening session, is really important for the board members to be able to understand where patients are coming from.”

While not considered official recommendations to Kunkel, the board voted to voice its support for a more equitable licensing process for producers and to broaden the definition of what a qualified patient is. Both of those issues are generally out of the purview of what state law allows the board to make recommendations on, though. 

The board was unable to vote on three petitions that sought to add attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia, social anxiety, cannabis for pets and substance abuse disorder. 

Earlier this year, at the advisory board’s recommendation, the DOH added opioid use disorder as a condition. But the board declined to recommend a more generalized substance abuse disorder as that might include cannabis use disorder. 

Kunkel did not attend the meeting, which took place at the same time as she presented the department’s budget request to the Legislative Finance Committee.