On a Sunday afternoon over Labor Day weekend, a masked man, armed with a gun, burst through the doors of an Albuquerque medical cannabis dispensary. About two minutes later, he walked back out the door, with an estimated $5,000 worth of cannabis products. In that time, the man hopped over a glass display case and corralled employees and at least one patient into one spot while he emptied a large jar of cannabis—and seconds later cannabis concentrates from the display case—into a bag. After he left, the man got into a car waiting in the back and sped off. All of it was caught on security cameras.
In body camera footage from the Albuquerque Police Department, one of the employees can be heard recounting what the man said.
“He asked if we had families and he was like, ‘Then you understand why I have to do this,’” the employee said.
A potential new party to a lawsuit filed against the New Mexico Department of Health could further complicate the issue of how much medical cannabis is enough for the state.
Medical cannabis producer R. Greenleaf has asked a state judge to allow the company to intervene in a lawsuit filed by three other medical cannabis companies that argue the state’s mandated limit on cannabis plants should be raised to better meet demands. R. Greenleaf, through its lawyer, argued that the three producers calling for a higher plant limit are not representative of the rest of the medical cannabis industry. Earlier this year, R. Greenleaf submitted its own study to the DOH and argued that producers need less than 1,500 plants to adequately supply patients with cannabis.
The lawsuit, filed by producers Ultra Health, Sacred Garden and G & G Genetics, argues that the most recent plant limit increase did not go far enough and that the DOH did not use reliable data to reach the current plant limit of 1,750. The lawsuit says the state did not account for things like additional qualifying conditions and a recent court ruling that allows non-residents of New Mexico to become medical cannabis patients.
“The New Mexico Department of Health and Secretary [Kathyleen] Kunkel have promulgated an administrative rule that violates a valid, un-appealed order from the First Judicial District Court,” the initial lawsuit read. “The rule also contradicts the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act and defeats the purpose and fulfillment of that statute.”
The DOH has not filed a response yet, but the request by R. Greenleaf to intervene implies a disagreement amongst producers about whether New Mexico has, or is headed towards a shortage of medical cannabis.
During a New Mexico Department of Health public hearing earlier this month that allowed public input into proposed rule changes to the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, a major player in the industry raised concerns with some patients.
Willie Ford, managing director of the medical cannabis consulting company Reynold Greenleaf and Associates, told DOH officials he wanted more state oversight of patients who grow their own cannabis.
“PPLs need more regulation, they need more oversight for public safety issues,” Ford said. “These are significant and serious issues that affect the general public and their safety.”
PPLs, or Personal Production Licenses, allow patients who qualify to grow up to four plants for their own use. He voice concern with a proposed rule change that would allow PPL holders to take their harvested cannabis to licensed manufacturers to produce extracts and concentrates. Four plants, Ford said, could equal about 20 pounds a year per PPL.
Ford’s comments, and the online rebuttals from PPL patients that came after, highlight an issue that DOH will likely be forced to address, especially before New Mexico legalizes cannabis for recreational use: whether PPL patients should be regulated similar to Licensed Non-Profit Producers who sell products through their dispensaries.
Josh McCurdy with the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Advocate Alliance told NM Political Report that he didn’t appreciate the suggestion that PPL patients are doing anything other than growing their own medicine, often in places where dispensaries are far and few between.
“We need more competition,” McCurdy, who lives and grows his own cannabis in Ruidoso, said. “That’s the reason it’s $10 a gram in Albuquerque and it goes from $12 to $15 in rural areas.”
He estimated his homegrown cannabis costs about $5 to $6 a gram to grow.
McCurdy disagreed with Ford’s claim that four plants harvested around 4 to five times a year could yield about 20 pounds.
“I’ve been by a few hundred PPL grows in this state and 99 percent of them are struggling just to yield a couple of ounces every four months,” McCurdy said.
McCurdy dismissed a common sentiment he said he’s heard from producers—that home growers contribute to illegal cannabis sales.
“The producers have put it in a way, where they like to do some fear mongering and act like the PPLs are the illicit black market,” McCurdy said.
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 Albuquerque medical cannabis producer will not have to shut its doors next week during what he says is one of his busiest days of the year. This comes after Santa Fe Judge David Thompson ruled Monday that Ultra Health must pay a $100 fine for bringing a cannabis seedling plant to the New Mexico State Fair last year. But Ultra Health will not have to close down for five days, as the state originally ordered to punish the medical cannabis producer for putting the plant on public display. The ruling comes after a nearly seven-month long legal battle between the company and the New Mexico Department of Health. Ultra Health brought a non flowering cannabis plant to the New Mexico State Fair in September 2016 and was quickly told to remove it by fair officials.
A bill that would update the state’s medical cannabis law could see some changes before it’s ever heard in a legislative committee. Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, prefiled his aptly named Medical Marijuana Changes bill last month. Now McSorley is working with a group of producers and patient advocates to make changes to his bill one week before the legislative session starts. McSorley told NM Political Report he wants to add opioid addiction to the list of medical conditions that qualify patients to buy cannabis. He also said he wants to allow all veterans to use cannabis medicinally.
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.
At least one medical marijuana producer is hesitant about new transparency rules that open government advocates are lauding. Earlier this week, the New Mexico Department of Health announced a change to a confidentiality provision for medical marijuana producers. For more than a year, some advocates have pushed the department to release names and other information of producers around the state, citing a state public records law. According to the DOH website, only personal information of employees and producers, such as social security numbers and personal addresses, will be kept confidential. Willie Ford, executive director of Reynold Greenleaf & Associates, which manages non-profit producers, told NM Political Report that he is a supporter of transparency, but is not pleased with the release of information like grow locations.
As prefiled bills roll in to the Roundhouse, New Mexicans can expect to see some of the usual suspects. The legalization of recreational marijuana has become one of those perennial bills. This year, Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, has filed a legalization bill similar to one he filed last year. McCamley told NM Political Report the issue absolutely is a budget issue and and should be considered during the short session. “For this not be considered would be grossly inappropriate,” McCamley said in a phone interview on Monday.
The New Mexico Department of Health released a list of proposed rule changes regarding medical marijuana licensing and production on Thursday. If approved by department secretary Retta Ward, the new rules would require more information from cannabis producers, change certain testing requirements and allow more flexibility to doctors when prescribing medical cannabis. The changes will be presented to the advisory board next month where members of the public will have their chance to voice concerns. One stakeholder said he will be there to ask for more clarification, specifically from the producer standpoint. Willie Ford, executive director of Reynold Greenleaf & Associates, told NM Political Report that he was “pleasantly surprised” at the action by the department but that there needs to be more discussion.