Since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a task force to study possible cannabis legalization measures last month, some in the medical cannabis community expressed concerns about proper representation.
The Cannabis Legalization Working Group, the governor’s office said, will work this year and send their recommendations to Lujan Grisham before next year’s 30-day legislative session. Lujan Grisham announced earlier this year that she would add legalizing cannabis for adult recreational use to the call next year. In even numbered years, all legislation related to budgetary matters are considered “germane”, but the governor can give permission for legislators to discuss other issues.
Some medical cannabis patients and patient advocates have long warned lawmakers of passing legalization proposals that might harm the medical cannabis program. Now, at least one patient and even medical cannabis producers are scratching their heads wondering why the Cannabis Legalization Working Group does not include actual patients.
Patients want a seat at the table
Ginger Grider is a medical cannabis patient and works with the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Advocate Alliance. Grider, who lives in Portales, said rural parts of the state regularly see shortages or outages in local dispensaries.
A high-profile New Mexico medical cannabis producer still maintains a recent change in the wording of the state’s medical cannabis law means non-residents should be able to become patients. Brian Egolf, an attorney for medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, sent a six-page letter arguing that point to Medical Cannabis Program director Kenny Vigil on Wednesday. Egolf is also New Mexico’s Speaker of the House. In the letter, Egolf outlined five reasons why the state should allow non-residents to become patients in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program, including a straightforward reading of the law, the fact that other state programs include non-residents, that state law prohibits transporting cannabis across state lines and that the Department of Health cannot override state law. A DOH spokesman said the department received the letter late in the day on Wednesday and was still reviewing it at publication time.
The New Mexico Department of Public Health has made it clear—only New Mexico residents can enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. “Persons who are not residents of New Mexico cannot be enrolled in the NM Medical Cannabis Program,” the department said in a statement to NM Political Report Friday. The statement came after the CEO of a prominent medical cannabis producer said he believes a change in the law allows for out-of-state patients to enroll in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program. Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of Ultra Health, previously told NM Political Report he bought radio ads in the southeast part of New Mexico to inform those in west Texas they can now apply to become a medical cannabis patient. Cannabis is illegal in Texas for all uses, including medical.
A recent expansion of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis through rule changes will likely result in a higher number of patients in New Mexico. But a law that goes into effect on Friday could also result in a new pool of patients—non-residents of New Mexico.
Some changes to the law include protections from discrimination for patients, reciprocity with other states’ medical cannabis programs and an extended life span of medical cannabis cards. But perhaps the most significant and, until now, overlooked change to the law is who qualifies for medical cannabis cards. As of Friday, the definition of a “qualified patient” will no longer include the term “resident of New Mexico.” That term was replaced with “person.”
Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, noticed the change in language and launched a campaign targeted towards residents of Texas who live close to New Mexico.
Just days after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed broad changes to New Mexico’s medical cannabis into law, there are already questions surrounding whether inmates serving out sentences are allowed to use medical cannabis. Senate Bill 406, which the governor signed last week, included protections against job termination and loss of child custody for merely being a patient in the program. A lot of those protections are already in practice, but not written into law—like whether those on probation or parole can be medical cannabis patients. According to a written Department of Corrections policy, probationers or parolees with a valid medical cannabis card will get a pass of sorts for testing positive for the substance. Now, the law explicitly states that those on probation or parole are allowed to use medical cannabis.
The scramble to reach 2,500 has begun. More than a quarter of medical cannabis producers in New Mexico have already applied to increase their grow operations to 2,500 plants since the state announced, through an emergency rule change, it would allow plant increases a week ago. Of the 35 registered Licensed Non-Profit Producers (LNPP), 12 applied to increase the number of their plants and nine said they they intend to grow the maximum number of plants. That could mean 26,000 plants across the state, not counting the plants grown by patients who grow their own cannabis with a Personal Production License. That’s about double what the Department of Health reported in production at the end of 2018.
Today’s the day. The New Mexico Department of Health has run the clock on a court order to come up with a number, and a reason behind it, of how many medical cannabis plants can be grown in the state. Last year, a state district court judge gave the state’s Department of Health about four months to determine a maximum number of plants medical cannabis producers can have at any given time. And the judge ordered the department to back their decision up with data. The department asked for a last-minute extension from the court, which the judge denied.
A Republican state senator on Thursday introduced a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana but, unlike a Democratic House bill, would have the state operate retail marijuana stores. Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque said in a phone interview Thursday that, considering the number of western states that have adopted laws treating marijuana more like alcohol, legalization in New Mexico is inevitable. “It’s a just matter of how we want to do it,” he said. “We should do it in a smart way.” Moores said his proposal would take steps to reduce harmful effects of marijuana, “while allowing adults the liberty of using marijuana if they want to.”
In less than a week, Albuquerque voters will cast ballots for the next mayor and in some districts, city councilors. Most candidates have straightforward ideas on how to improve the city, but one candidate is keeping true to his campaign modus operandi by proposing an idea that other candidates won’t even consider. Gus Pedrotty, the youngest candidate for mayor this year, recently added city-level marijuana legalization to his platform. While the idea of legalization on a local level may be enticing for some voters, other candidates and at least one cannabis producer said the idea is too complicated to work. Earlier this month, Pedrotty released a campaign video promoting his ideas for improving the city’s clean energy industry and how to help pay for it.
A prominent medical cannabis producer in New Mexico filed a federal lawsuit against officials with the state agency that oversees the New Mexico State Fair and owns the fairgrounds. In the complaint filed Wednesday, New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health accused top staffers with Expo New Mexico along with the chair of the state fair board of violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution for barring the medical cannabis company from bringing cannabis-related materials to an educational booth later this year. Chairman of the New Mexico State Fair Commission Larry Kennedy, Expo New Mexico General Manager Dan Mourning and Concessions Department Director Raina Bingham are named as defendants in the case. The state fair officials, according to the lawsuit, “implicitly chilled” Ultra Health’s “clearly established rights to freedom of speech and expression.” New Mexico Expo officials, though, said they have the authority to implement their own rules and regulations.