March 4, 2020

Medical cannabis reciprocity on hold

Medical cannabis patients from other states will have to wait until they can purchase or use their medicine in New Mexico. 

Even though medical cannabis reciprocity is written in state law and rules and regulation, the head of New Mexico’s program told NM Political Report that medical cannabis producers will not be able to sell to out of state patients until July. 

Dr. Dominick Zurlo, the Medical Cannabis Program director, confirmed that the state’s Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel has signed off on a rule change that outlines rules for reciprocal patients.

“It’s been signed and promulgated, which means it’s been basically distributed and become a regulation,” Zurlo said. “In the regulation itself, it does state it will take effect on July 1st.”

That’s partly because, Zurlo said, the seed-to-sale tracking software the state uses is due for an upgrade. Under the new rules, already-qualified cannabis patients from states that have a medical cannabis program could go to any dispensary in New Mexico to register as a reciprocal patient. 

“What it really comes down to is we’re not doing an upgrade that just includes this,” Zurlo said. “We’re actually doing a much broader upgrade and an upgrade that is going to have a much greater impact for patients in improving the system and improving how patients actually get registered in the program.”

Zurlo said part of the update will include an online portal where some patients can register and be approved by providers online. 

Between now and July, medical cannabis patients in New Mexico can expect to see the beginnings of consumption areas, or sanctioned places to use medical cannabis. Zurlo said reciprocity and consumption areas are somewhat tied to each other as many out of state patients may not have a safe and approved place to use their cannabis. But he said the other aim of those consumption areas is to offer a safe and approved place for New Mexico residents whose living conditions don’t allow for use of cannabis. That could be a landlord who doesn’t allow smoking or federal housing that bars cannabis completely, Zurlo said. 

But it’s still unclear exactly when Kunkel will sign off on rules for consumption areas. 

“Those are still being reviewed but I anticipate very soon that we’ll actually have those promulgated as well,” Zurlo said. “I don’t have an exact date on that, but I anticipate it to be shortly.”

Rules for both reciprocity and consumption areas are required by law after the Legislature made sweeping changes to the state medical cannabis law in 2019. The law change required the DOH to adopt and promulgate rules for reciprocity by March 1, 2020. The law did not mandate a deadline for consumption areas. Zurlo said the state hit their statutory deadline by finalizing the rules. But those rules specify that patients from other states can’t legally buy or possess medical cannabis in New Mexico until July. 

That’s aside from the more than 600 medical cannabis patients who are not New Mexico residents. 

Part of the sweeping changes made to state law in 2019 included one that removed the requirement of being a New Mexico resident to be part of the state’s medical cannabis program. Last month, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a change that added the residency requirement back into statute. 

The “cleanup” bill received support from both Republicans and Democrats, but the handful of critics was also bipartisan. Democratic Sens. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces and Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque both expressed concern for out of state patients not being able to access cannabis in New Mexico. 

Kunkel repeatedly reassured hesitant lawmakers that she had already signed reciprocity rules and said that anyone who is already approved in their home state to use medical cannabis can also buy and use it in New Mexico. 

Once the updates to the state’s tracking software are complete, Zurlo said, patients with proof they are approved to use medical cannabis can register with a dispensary of their choice instead of having to go directly to the DOH. 

But Zurlo warned against out of state patients taking their cannabis back home with them. 

“Even with reciprocity,” Zurlo said. “Any patient should remember, whether they’re a patient in New Mexico or a patient from another state, that it is still federally illegal to cross a state line with cannabis.”