April 30, 2021

NM medical cannabis patients should not expect increased purchase limits any time soon

The head of the department tasked with regulating recreational-use cannabis in New Mexico said medical cannabis patients should not expect purchase limits to be expanded, despite a letter from a group of New Mexico medical cannabis producers suggesting otherwise.  

Last week, during an interview for the collaborative podcast Growing Forward, New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department Superintendent Linda Trujillo said until commercial cannabis sales begin next April, medical cannabis patients will still be limited to 230 units in a rolling 90-day period. The Medical Cannabis Program, overseen by the state’s Department of Health, defines a unit as one gram of smokable cannabis, or 0.2 grams of THC in extracts, derivatives or edible cannabis products.

Representatives of both DOH and RLD confirmed that both agencies agree that medical cannabis purchase limits will continue to be determined by DOH. The Cannabis Regulation Act also seems to confirm that even after commercial cannabis sales start next year, medical cannabis purchase limits will be determined by the DOH. 

Earlier this month a group of five medical cannabis producers sent a letter to RLD and DOH, essentially arguing for an increase in production limits. The Cannabis Regulation Act, which goes into effect on June 29, will limit recreational-use cannabis purchases to two ounces at a time, but will not limit the number of purchases that can be made. While the new law will limit how much cannabis a person can possess outside of their home, a person could theoretically purchase the current limit for medical cannabis patients in four trips to the same dispensary. 

But Trujillo said the DOH will continue to oversee medical cannabis and that the department’s purchase limits still stand.  

“Let’s be really clear on that,” Trujillo said. “Regardless of the letter and any answer that might come as a result of that, there was a real delineation between RLD responsibilities, and Department of Health responsibilities.”

Trujillo said RLD is calling any legal sales other than for medical use commercial sales and that until commercial sales begin, medical cannabis sales will be limited to what DOH implemented in rules and regulations. 

“Anything beyond what the department determines, the Department of Health determines, as adequate supply would be commercial cannabis,” Trujillo said. “And that’s not going to be legal to purchase until [RLD] sets a date for it to be legal to purchase. And that is going to be no later than April 1.”

A spokesperson for DOH confirmed with NM Political Report that the department will retain oversight of medical cannabis purchase limits even after commercial cannabis sales begin and pointed to a section of the Cannabis Regulation Act that amends the current medical cannabis law and defines “adequate supply” as an amount of cannabis approved for patients, determined by “the department.” A few pages later, the section defines “department” as the Department of Health. 

It’s still unclear whether DOH or RLD will officially respond to the letter from the five producers or whether DOH will increase medical cannabis patient purchase limits. But based on both departments’ stances and the wording of the Cannabis Regulation Act, medical cannabis patients will be limited to 230 units in a 90-day period.

But the debate between the group of medical cannabis producers and the state is likely far from over. One of the producers that signed on to the letter is Ultra Health, which has a history of filing legal challenges against the state. There is also currently pending litigation between DOH and Ultra Health over whether the department adequately determined production limits for medical cannabis producers. President and CEO of Ultra Health Duke Rodriguez told NM Political Report that he is still convinced that the Cannabis Regulation Act allows current medical cannabis patients to purchase up to two ounces at a time, with no limit on the number of transactions in a day. 

“The key here is the importance of getting this absolutely right,” Rodriguez said in a text to NM Political Report. “We have been engaged in the drafting and redrafting of this document for over a year. We feel very certain what the plain language meaning is and when properly reconciled with the statute as a whole, it can be easily confirmed.”

Rodriguez doubled down somewhat and invoked a sentiment from the famous author Upton Sinclair.

“Sinclair said something along the line: it is difficult to get a person to understand something when his paycheck depends on him not understanding it,” Rodriguez said.