ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A panel of doctors and other health care professionals on Monday recommended increasing the amount of marijuana that can be purchased by participants in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program. But the debate over whether the state has an adequate supply has yet to be settled.
The state medical cannabis advisory board voted in favor of nearly doubling the patient purchase limit to 15 ounces over 90 days after hearing from supporters that New Mexico has trailed other states when it comes to the accessibility of medical marijuana. Producers and patients noted that the higher limit would at least put New Mexico on par with Nevada and Arizona but that many other states allow for patients to buy significantly more.
It will be up to the state health secretary to make a final decision on the recommendation.
The petition seeking the higher purchase limits comes as participation in the program has ballooned, even amid the coronavirus pandemic.
State officials reported Monday that just over 100,000 people now have medical cannabis cards, marking a nearly 30% increase over the past year. That total doesn't include those patients with cards from programs in other states who are allowed to purchase from New Mexico producers, the officials said.
The number of participants is expected to continue growing steadily. It could get an added boost if the panel's recommendations for expanding the list of qualifying conditions to include anxiety, attention deficient disorders, Tourette’s and some substance abuse disorders are approved by the health secretary.
The board has made similar recommendations in the past, only to have them rejected. With new leadership at the Health Department coming onboard, it's unclear how soon a final decision could be made.
Dr. Tracie Collins, dean of the College of Population Health at the University of New Mexico, is set to take over the department in December. Her priorities include the state's response to the pandemic. The agency also is in the middle of making new rules that would govern reciprocity for those patients whose authorization to use medical marijuana originated in other states.
Officials with New Mexico's program say the goal is to provide access for people who may be traveling through or living in the state on a temporary basis. The proposed changes would close a loophole that allows New Mexico residents to see a provider online and get authorization out of state rather than enrolling in New Mexico's program.
Dr. Dominick Zurlo, director of New Mexico's medical cannabis program, told the advisory board that the state wants to ensure people aren't just going through a process to get access but are under the direct care of a provider who can make sure there are no adverse effects or other symptoms that are being masked.
The board also heard from the head of Ultra Health, one of New Mexico's largest medical marijuana companies. CEO Duke Rodriguez petitioned the board to consider recommending that licensed producers be allowed to grow more plants or that the plant limit be eliminated altogether. He called the limit archaic, saying increasing supply would address price and variety issues that have plagued New Mexico's program.
“It's the same issue we've had over and over again,” Rodriguez said. “If you want to give patients choice, if you want to provide patients access, if you want to do all the good things medical cannabis should do, you must recognize that the primary central problem to our entire model is the plant count.”
Zurlo said New Mexico producers are still 20,000 plants away from meeting even the current limit and if they increased their capacity, that would help lower the price per gram and give customers more options.
Rodriguez challenged the state's data and accused the program of instituting restrictions to make regulation easier.
The board plans to take up the supply issue at a meeting in December. State lawmakers also are expected in 2021 to weigh the potential for legalizing recreational marijuana, which board members and others acknowledged could significantly affect the medical cannabis program.