As expected, the head of New Mexico’s Department of Health approved opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition to use medical cannabis. In an announcement on Thursday, DOH Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel said she accepted a recommendation from the state’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to include opioid use disorder and five other conditions as reasons to grant a medical card for medical cannabis use. “Adding these conditions to the Medical Cannabis Program provides medical providers new tools for relieving symptoms that may otherwise be difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to relieve through conventional means,” Kunkel said in a statement. “Thousands of New Mexicans may find relief from their symptoms through medical cannabis that they can’t get anywhere else.”
Kunkel also approved Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disorder and three degenerative neurological disorders—Friedreich’s ataxia, Lewy body disease, and spinal muscular atrophy. The approval of those six conditions is the latest change in the Medical Cannabis Program since the change in administrations.
New Mexico, along with most of the U.S., is struggling to find a way to combat opioid abuse, overdoses and death, a problem often referred to as an epidemic or crisis. One possible solution, according to a recent study, is using cannabis to help fight the addictions to deadly addictive drugs like heroin or prescription drugs. New Mexico Secretary of Health Lynn Gallagher has already shot down the possibility of adding opioid use disorder or substance abuse disorder to the list of 21 qualifying conditions for medical cannabis numerous times. Internal documents show the New Mexico Department of Health, which oversees the medical cannabis program, will likely disapprove it for opioid use disorder again. The revelation that DOH officials have compiled more than a dozen studies that show cannabis not only doesn’t help addiction, but worsens it, has at least one producer in polite disagreement with the Martinez administration and two others openly frustrated.
On April 20, a popular day for cannabis enthusiasts, headlines were filled with pot puns, promises of legalization from politicians and an announcement that Albuquerque ended criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. But after the smoke cleared, some medical cannabis advocates are still holding their breath, waiting to hear from New Mexico’s top medical cannabis decision maker on whether or not opioid addicts can legally obtain derivatives of the plant to aid in trying to defeat an opioid addiction. New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher is expected to decide soon whether to accept or reject, for the third time, a recommendation from a board of medical professionals to add opioid use disorder to the list of 21 conditions that currently qualify someone to be a part of the state’s medical cannabis program. Gallagher has not indicated publicly if she will add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions. Documents obtained by NM Political Report, through an Inspection of Public Records Act request, show staff discussions about recommended conditions an advisory board sent to Gallagher.
New Mexico lawmakers injected a dose of political pressure Monday into an unwavering but so far unsuccessful effort to add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in New Mexico. State Sen. Jeff Steinborn and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, both Democrats from Las Cruces, held a news conference at the Roundhouse to bring attention to companion memorials they are sponsoring, calling on Department of Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher to allow people with opioid dependence to obtain medical marijuana to help them break the chains of their addiction. “It is past time that this secretary do this,” Steinborn said. “People are dying every day in the state of New Mexico from opioid abuse, and medical marijuana has proven to be a safer treatment for any underlying conditions and certainly, hopefully, to step people down from opioid addiction into something safer that won’t kill them.” Twice, the state Medical Cannabis Program’s advisory board has recommended medical marijuana be allowed as a treatment for opioid addiction.
A New Mexico state agency and a medical cannabis company argued in a state district court Monday morning whether the state’s punishment of the company was warranted. Santa Fe District Court Judge David Thompson heard from both the state’s Department of Health (DOH) and a lawyer representing medical cannabis producer New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health about whether the company will have to shut down retail operations for five days later this month. The department claims Ultra Health violated the state’s medical cannabis program rules by moving a plant out of their approved growing and retail facilities and into the public. The pending sanction is a result of a cannabis plant Ultra Health used in an exhibit at the New Mexico State Fair last September. The plant Ultra Health brought to the State Fair was non-flowering, meaning it was not mature enough to be used for consumption..
TAOS — Medical cannabis patients, producers and advocates met with a legislative committee Monday afternoon to discuss issues New Mexico’s medical marijuana program. About 50 people gathered in the Taos County Commission Chambers for a Legislative Health & Human Services Committee for an opportunity to hear from New Mexico Department of Health Secretary-Designate Lynn Gallagher regarding patient card wait times, provider plant limits and organizational issues within the department. Gallagher defended the program, which has been under fire for long wait times for medical cannabis cards, and told legislators her department was making progress in improving the medical cannabis program by increasing plant limits and how much marijuana patients can possess. “We’re not perfect but we are moving in a forward, positive direction,” Gallagher told lawmakers. The entire committee meeting lasted more than five hours and only covered medical marijuana, but in the last hour, lawmakers asked pointed questions about the program and Gallagher’s plans for the future.
State Auditor Tim Keller wants answers from the state Department of Health for delays in the processing of cards for medical cannabis program patients. In a letter to DOH Secretary-designate Lynn Gallagher sent yesterday, Keller writes that that his office will audit the department’s compliance with the legally-required 30-day waiting period for processing applications of new and returning medical cannabis patients. Patients are required to renew their cards every year. As NM Political Report and other news outlets have recently reported, thousands of patients are waiting as much as two or three times the required time period to receive their card, despite a state statute requiring the department to process applications in no longer than 30 days. Patients waiting in the limbo period aren’t legally allowed to buy cannabis, even if they were members of the program and have been prescribed cannabis by their doctors.