March 21, 2020

NM deems medical cannabis essential during COVID-19 restrictions

Matthew Reichbach

As New Mexicans brace themselves for an unknown period of restricted over the counter medicine purchases due to the growing number of positive COVID-19 tests, the state’s Department of Health said medical cannabis patients can rest assured that their access to medicine won’t be interrupted. 

In a letter to medical cannabis producers, patients and other stakeholders, Medical Cannabis Program Director Dr. Dominick Zurlo said medical cannabis Licensed Non Profit Producers (LNPP) qualify as essential services under Secretary of Health Kathyleen Kunkel’s latest emergency health order. 

“Accordingly, LNPPs are not required to limit operations pursuant to that order,” Zurlo wrote.

Medical cannabis patient cards that are set to expire between March 11 and June 13 will get a 90 day extension, according to Zurlo. He also encouraged patients to use telemedicine to consult with a medical professional for new patient and card renewal recommendations.

Anticipating a possible staffing shortage for producers, Zurlo said the department is also “temporarily suspending” criminal background checks for new employees until producers send in their relicensing applications, which are due in June.

But, Zurlo said, both patients and producers should continue to take precautionary steps to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

“As previously distributed to the LNPPs and Dispensaries, the Medical Cannabis Program recommends using pick-up, curb-side, or delivery service,” he wrote. 

An order by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham closed all state offices for in-person visits, which includes the Medical Cannabis Program. In his letter, Zurlo said the program’s office doors are closed to the public, but that employees continue to process patient applications. The program will also continue to process requests from producers to amend the conditions of their licences to allow for delivery. 

“Pick up and curb-side options do not require an amendment from the LNPP, however, delivery service does require an amendment in order to ensure policies are in place to ensure the safety of patients, staff, and safe delivery mechanisms,” Zurlo said.

Zurlo also reminded producers who are not providing special pick-up options to limit the number of people in a room to “fewer than ten persons” to comply with the latest amendments to the public health emergency order. 

Over the past two weeks, producers have been updating patients on temporary changes to their respective operations. 

Medical cannabis producer Southwest Wellness sent a text notification to patients with temporary operation changes aimed at limiting the number of people in their dispensaries.

“All orders must be made by phone or check-in window,” the notification read. 

PurLife, another producer, also asked patients to place orders online or by phone “in an effort to limit person-to-person contact.”

At least one producer temporarily shut down one of their dispensaries and changed business hours for some of their others.

In an email to patients, R. Greenleaf said it would shut down its Nob Hill location.

“In order to limit the amount of potential exposure and protect both patients and employees we will be amending the hours of operation in our clinics,” the email read. Earlier this month, Zurlo told NM Political Report that he was not concerned about a potential medical cannabis shortage. He said producers collectively reported roughly 7 million unsold units at the end of 2019, although that quarterly report is not posted online for verification. The program defines one unit as a gram of “dried flower product” or about .2 grams of of concentrated or extracted products. Patients are allowed to purchase 230 units during a rolling period of 90 days. Patients can also legally have up to 230 units at any given time.