As the state Department of Health prepares to hold a public hearing Monday on proposed new rules for New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program, feedback already is pouring in from a variety of sources — much of it criticism.
The Legislative Health and Human Services Committee this week sent a letter to Health Secretary Retta Ward, asking the department to hold off on adopting the proposed rules until the department has gathered more input from stakeholders and consulted its Medical Advisory Board.
The legislative panel also wants the department to wait until the committee has had a chance to hold its own public meeting on the topic in July.
“Our constituents have raised many concerns about these rules,” says the letter, signed by the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee chairman, Rep. James Roger Madelena, D-Jemez Pueblo, and Vice Chairman Gerald Ortiz Y Pino, D-Albuquerque. After hearing the concerns, the letter says, committee members voted unanimously to register written comments opposing the adoption of the proposed rule changes “until the DOH has engaged in further consultation with stakeholders and experts.”
The proposed overhaul of the Medical Cannabis Program’s rules includes changes to almost every aspect of the program, from the numbers of plants a patient can grow — six instead of 12 — to what kind of testing nonprofit producers would be required to perform.
The proposals would increase the number of plants producers grow but also would impose new rules on producers. Some say the new rules would cost so much to implement that they would offset the benefits of higher production and ultimately would increase the costs of legally grown marijuana for the more than 11,200 patients enrolled in the program.
Ortiz Y Pino said Thursday he’s surprised Ward would be supporting the proposed changes.
“This is not going to be a well-run program if they do these things,” Ortiz Y Pino said. “One reason we wrote this letter is, she’s been getting, we think, bad information from some of her underlings. I don’t know who they are or what their motives are, but I don’t believe the secretary would be doing this without being misled, essentially, by her staff.”
Department spokesman Kenny Vigil said Thursday that the committee’s letter is being reviewed by the department.
The New Mexico branch of the Drug Policy Alliance wrote Ward a letter Friday, criticizing proposed revisions it says will “unfairly and illegally place new and crushing burdens on poor families.”
Among the proposed rules criticized by the alliance is one that would make it illegal for parents or caregivers of ailing minors to grow the medicinal herb for children, forcing them to buy from producers. The proposed change, the alliance argues, “would undermine the health and well-being of the low-income and rural families across the state.”
The alliance also says the proposed new rules would “establish new and serious disciplinary actions that rest on vague and ill-defined violations” and “remove essential departmental oversight and program transparency.”
Len Goodman, founder of New MexiCann Natural Medicine, one of the first and largest of the licensed nonprofit producers in the state, said the proposed change that concerns him most is one that would change the definition of “adequate supply.”
Goodman said one of the main purposes of the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, which created the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, was to allow patients to possess an adequate supply of medicine — defined only in terms of quantity — without fear of legal prosecution. The new rules would define “adequate supply” as cannabis that was “derived solely” from state-licensed producers,” something Goodman says would punish those who buy cannabis from other sources, due to price or access obstacles.
“It won’t change what people do,” he said. “It just removes their legal protection and puts them at risk.”
Vigil said Thursday that the department had received about 250 written comments on the new regulations.
T.J. Scott, president of the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patient’s Alliance, said he expects about 1,000 people to attend the hearing set for Monday in Santa Fe. He said he has already purchased 200 Rail Runner Express train tickets to allow people from the Albuquerque area to attend. He said the group will buy tickets for others who show up at the Los Ranchos Rail Runner station for the 6:34 a.m. or 7:36 a.m. trains on Monday.
Contact Phaedra Haywood at 986-3068 or email@example.com.