One of the first licensed producers of medical cannabis in New Mexico, and a businessman whose firm has the largest share of the market, offered opposing views Friday on proposed new rules governing the state’s medical cannabis program.
Best Daze CEO Len Goodman — who received one of the first five licenses to grow cannabis in New Mexico in 2009 — said the proposed plant limit of 1,750 plants per producer is “more than what we need right now and will hold us for a long time to come.”
Any more, Goodman said, and the state runs the risk of having a “glut” of legally grown cannabis, which he claimed would likely be diverted to the black market.
But Ultra Health CEO Duke Rodriguez — whose company claims a lion’s share of the state’s medical cannabis business — wants more.
Five thousand plants per producer, to be exact.
“Let people grow what they are able to grow and let patients buy what they can, should and want to buy,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview Friday. “What we should be doing is preparing the current licensed producers and the state government for a larger amount of cannabis activity and encouraging more investment.”
Goodman and Rodriguez were two of more than a dozen people who spoke Friday at a public hearing to gather input on new rules the state Department of Health proposes to implement for the medical cannabis program in the near future.
The plant count limit isn’t the only rule the state is tweaking — the department also has proposed changes to fees for producers, fines for violations and how often the state’s 70,000-plus patients must renew their cards.
But the department is under pressure to establish a new plant count limit by Aug. 28 or face the possibility producers would be free to grow an unlimited amount of plants.
Producers are currently allowed to grow up to 2,500 plants.
That number was installed in an effort to buy the department more time to comply with a court order issued in November by then-state District Judge David Thomson, who ruled the previous 450-plant limit imposed by the department was too restrictive and unsupported by a state statute.
The Erin and Lynne Compassionate Use Act, which paved the way for medical cannabis in New Mexico, requires the department to ensure an “adequate supply” of legally produced medical marijuana for patients enrolled in the program.
Department spokesman David Morgan said a hearing examiner will consider comments made at Friday’s hearing and make recommendations to Health Department Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel by Aug. 1.
Kunkel will have the final say on the plant count and other proposed changes.
Several patient advocates proposed a different fix Friday to the supply-and-demand issues that have plagued the program over the years. They suggested the department should diversify the market and encourage competition by licensing more producers and reducing producer fees to allow more mom-and-pop operators to get into the game and provide better access and lower prices for patients.
Rodriguez said with the prospect of full-scale legalization looming, it feels sort of “silly” to be discussing things such as plant limits, which he said are a throwback to the more restrictive regulatory framework created under the administrator of former Gov. Susana Martinez.
Rodriguez said New Mexico should “embrace what cannabis is bringing to the state and normalize the use and acceptance of cannabis in both an adult use and medical market.”
But Goodman said New Mexico is not there yet.
“When we have a bill [for legalization] we may be out of business, we have no idea,” Goodman said. “And it may not pass this year. But at the moment, we have to deal with the medical program because that’s what we have.”