The state of New Mexico on Wednesday turned down a request from multiple medical cannabis producers for an immediate increase in plant counts to avert what they predicted would be a shortage in supply after a new law legalizing use of recreational marijuana goes into effect June 29.
Last month, some of New Mexico’s leading producers wrote a letter to the state asserting the new law nullifies purchase limits on medical cannabis patients, who now are restricted from buying more than 230 grams, or about 8 ounces, of cannabis or cannabis products over a rolling 90-day period.
The producers said they needed to increase production right away because they anticipated medical cannabis patients would buy a lot more product under the higher purchase caps set by the new Cannabis Regulation Act, particularly since the law exempts medical cannabis from excise and gross receipts taxes, making it cheaper for patients.
But the purchase limits on medical cannabis patients will remain unchanged, at least until commercial sales begin, Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins and Regulation and Licensing Superintendent Linda Trujillo wrote in a joint letter in response to the producers’ request from last month.
“Until such time as commercial cannabis activity is permitted by the Cannabis Control Division, qualified patients will remain limited to medical purchases,” they wrote. “Once commercial cannabis activity is permitted to occur, qualified patients will be allowed to purchase greater quantities of cannabis, consistent with the increased limits applicable to commercial cannabis activity.”
Furthermore, they wrote, medical cannabis patients will only be exempt from excise and gross receipts taxes on purchase limits set by the Medical Cannabis Program. Any product they purchase that exceeds the existing medical cannabis cap will be subject to taxation, they wrote.
The recreational marijuana law allows adults 21 and older, including medical cannabis patients, to buy up to 2 ounces of cannabis, 16 ounces of cannabis extract or 800 milligrams of edible cannabis “at one time.”
“To the extent that a qualified patient’s purchases exceed the rolling 90-day adequate supply limit, those additional, ‘commercial cannabis’ purchases will not be deemed exempt from the cannabis excise tax or gross receipts tax,” the letter states.
“For the reasons stated,” Collins and Trujillo wrote in the letter, “the agencies disagree with your assertion that there will be shortages of medical cannabis beginning June 29th that necessitate an immediate increase of plant limits for producers.”
But, they added, the state soon will begin revising existing producer plant limits “in anticipation of the impending authorization of commercial cannabis activity by the Cannabis Control Division.”
Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health, the state’s largest medical cannabis operation, said the response from the Department of Health and Regulation and Licensing Department “mandates a legal response.”
“They’re wrong on the tax implication. They’re wrong on the rights of patients to the amount of medicine that they can access. They’re wrong on so many levels,” he said. “It’s almost as though they decided to double down and take a position of extending the historical bad faith operation of the current Medical Cannabis Program. It just makes no sense.”
Rodriguez said producers weren’t seeking higher plant counts to increase profits.
“Ultra Health and the producers who may take on this challenge are not the ones who are to be most harmed by the communication from RLD and DOH,” he said. “Those to be most harmed are clearly the 112,000 [medical cannabis] patients [in New Mexico]. This is really about patients. But we can’t collectively believe that any individual patient can stand on their own and fund the effort that is required, so it does take, you know, the interests of people like Ultra Health to stand behind and provide the resources so these patients can be properly heard.”
After the producers requested a higher plant count to avert what they called a “crisis of supply,” state Sen. Joe Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat who serves as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted that they were “absolutely correct.”
“Pot bill as passed allows current users to buy unlimited supply,” he wrote on Twitter. “Bill only limits per sale quantity, but doesn’t limit number of sales per day or month. Don’t say we didn’t tell you.”
Cervantes said in a telephone interview late Wednesday the law passed by the Legislature has “gaping holes.”
“The Legislature felt comfortable letting agencies pass their own laws after the session, so the legislation avoided pinning down many issues that should have been included and weren’t,” he said. “We’re going to see this for the next year or longer, as the Legislature essentially gave the lawmaking responsibilities to the Department of Health.”
Cervantes also said “there were a lot of issues that were not thought out and were not included in the bill,” and that “a lot of the details were not put into the law with the idea that they would get worked out internally or informally” to avoid controversy and obstacles to passing the law.
“You’re seeing lawmaking happening, but it’s happening by the agency, and the Legislature gave away that authority,” he said.
In a separate tweet last month, Cervantes noted it didn’t take long after the New Mexico Legislature passed the new marijuana law for issues he raised at the Roundhouse to surface.
“While users may be limited to 2 ounces of bud per buy, they can make unlimited buys daily,” he wrote. “Havoc.”