The New Mexico Medical Cannabis Advisory Board voted Friday to recommend that the state Department of Health add six conditions to the list of ailments that qualify patients to enroll in the medical marijuana program, and to recommend that the department increase the amount and strength of cannabis a patient can possess.
The disorders the board approved include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety, depression, chronic headaches, including migraines, sleep disorder and dystonia, a neurological condition that causes muscle spasms, tremors and other problems with movement.
But when or if those changes will take effect is anyone’s guess.
Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher, who has the final word on changes to the state Medical Cannabis Program, still hasn’t decided whether to accept new conditions the board recommended in November — including Alzheimer’s disease and opiate use disorder. There are now 20 qualifying conditions on the program’s list.
Advisory board members expressed frustration Friday over Gallagher’s lack of urgency in reviewing and ruling on proposed program changes.
“I find this totally unacceptable,” said board member Dr. Laura Brown.
The board has commented on Gallagher’s slow response in the past, and even made a formal recommendation for a set turnaround time, Brown said, to no avail.
“It’s disappointing at best … that we aren’t getting any response to all the hard work [everyone] put in,” she said.
Health Department spokesman David Morgan said Gallagher didn’t act on the board’s November recommendations because lawmakers had proposed legislative changes to the Medical Cannabis Program during the recent session.
“Soon after Secretary Gallagher received the written recommendations,” Morgan wrote in an email, “it became evident that state lawmakers were going to make efforts to legislate a number of changes to the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. The Secretary monitored these bills closely while taking the advisory board’s recommendations under advisement.
“The primary goal of the Medical Cannabis Program is to ensure patients have safe access to medicine,” Morgan continued. “Adding new qualifying conditions is not a decision that the Secretary will ever take lightly.”
Morgan declined to speculate on how long it might be before Gallagher makes a decision on the pending proposals .
Advisory board Chairman Dr. Mitch Simpson said one bill in particular, House Bill 527, which would allow cannabis as a treatment for opioid addiction, could be holding up the process. Gallagher likely was waiting to see the bill’s outcome before deciding on the board’s recommendation, he said.
Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed that bill Friday, saying she did so in part because she didn’t want to “eliminate an important responsibility” of the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board.
On Friday, the board tabled discussion of a petition that sought to add concussions and other brain injuries to the list of qualifying conditions and voted against adding diabetes to the list.
The group also tabled a vote on a petition to add substance abuse disorder.
Under other recommendations the board approved Friday, patients would be allowed to possess up to 16 ounces of marijuana at any given time — up from 8 ounces — and the definition of an “adequate supply” of medical marijuana, which governs how much of the drug a patient can possess over a 90-day period, also would increase to 16 ounces from 8 ounces.
The board also voted to recommend that a patient who is granted a medical exception to the supply limit be allowed to have up to 24 ounces of marijuana in a 90-day period.
Patients who grow their own marijuana outdoors have complained that it’s difficult with a single annual harvest to strike a balance between possession limits while also producing enough medicine to meet their needs for a whole year. Patients who use large amounts of cannabis to treat their symptoms have said they are forced to choose between adequately medicating themselves and obeying the state law.
The board also voted to remove a cap on the THC content that cannabis products can contain. The cap is now set at 70 percent. Eliminating the cap would clear the way for patients to use highly concentrated substances, such as extracts known as wax and shatter, and Rick Simpson’s oil, a product used by some patients with cancer.
The board’s most popular recommendation, based on audience applause, would allow patients who are licensed to grow marijuana for personal use to form collectives, growing their crops together in common spaces and sharing the work of caring for the crops.
By statute, the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board is supposed to have eight members from the medical community, each with a different area of expertise. But it’s been at least two years since the board was complete.
There are currently five members — only four of whom attended Friday’s hearing. Three openings on the panel are for people representing the specialties of neurology, medical oncology and infectious diseases.
Contact Phaedra Haywood at 986-3068 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @phaedraann.