The legalization of recreational marijuana in New Mexico hasn’t slowed interest in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program.
Since the Cannabis Regulation Act went into effect June 29, allowing possession and use of the substance for adults 21 and over, the Department of Health has processed nearly 15,000 applications for medical marijuana patients.
There are now 124,463 patients enrolled in the program, and a huge spike in enrollment occurred in the last two years.
“There have been a lot of questions that we’ve heard about how patient enrollment would actually decrease with the advent of adult-use cannabis,” program Director Dr. Dominick Zurlo told state lawmakers Monday. “However, what we have seen so far is that patient enrollment has continued to steadily increase over the past two years.”
Between September 2019 and September 2021, enrollment in the program grew by 52,000 patients, or roughly 26,000 people each year.
“That’s a 72 percent increase in patient enrollment in those two years,” Zurlo said.
Chris Kukulski enrolled in the program about a year and a half ago, after moving to New Mexico from Arizona, where he was also a medical marijuana cardholder.
Kukulski, 38, said he’s “not surprised at all” enrollment has increased 72 percent in New Mexico’s program since September 2019.
“I don’t think that there’s necessarily more people that are using cannabis than there was before,” he said. “I think the difference is people are becoming a little bit more comfortable with the idea of their neighbors and [other people] using it. The stigma isn’t there, and people aren’t afraid to come out of the dark corners anymore and go get their medical card and say that they’re a patient.”
Kukulski said he’s been using marijuana as medicine since before it was medically available. He uses medical cannabis “for a list of ailments,” he added, but he was provided a card for PTSD, a condition he said is associated with childhood trauma.
“But I also do use it for pain and to sleep,” said Kukulski, who lives in Santa Fe’s South Capitol neighborhood.
Post traumatic stress disorder is the most common qualifying condition for medical marijuana patients in New Mexico. Zurlo said nearly 68,000 patients are in the state’s program due to PTSD, followed by severe chronic pain, with nearly 38,000 patients, and cancer, with just over 6,000 patients.
“That leaves just under 13,000 patients enrolled with one of the other 25 qualifying conditions,” Zurlo said.
Growth in enrollment demonstrates a need for medical cannabis, he said.
“This shows that the medical program is serving and continuing to improve access to other patients within New Mexico who can utilize the beneficial effects of cannabis on their qualifying conditions.”
Zurlo said there are medical cannabis patients in every county of the state.
Although the new law legalizing recreational marijuana in New Mexico went into effect at the end of June, retail sales haven’t started yet. The state Regulation and Licensing Department and its newly created Cannabis Control Division are in the process of setting up the new industry by developing a licensing, taxing and enforcement regulatory structure for recreational marijuana.
The law exempts a certain amount of medical cannabis from excise and gross receipts taxes, making it cheaper for patients.
John Blair, deputy superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department, said medical cannabis patients won’t be taxed on their so-called adequate supply.
Through the Medical Cannabis Program, patients are restricted from buying more than 230 grams, or about 8 ounces, of cannabis or cannabis products over a rolling 90-day period. They have an option of requesting an increase of up to 12 ounces, also over the rolling 90-day period.
Under the new law, when sales become legal in the state for adults 21 and older, patients in the medical program will be able to buy up to 2 ounces of cannabis, 16 ounces of cannabis extract or 800 milligrams of edible cannabis “at one time.”
However, Blair said, if patients who reach the limit set under the medical program “choose to buy additional cannabis beyond that, they will be charged tax on that portion of the adult-use cannabis, just not on the adequate supply.”
Asked whether there was a financial incentive for people to enroll in the Medical Cannabis Program, Zurlo wrote in an email the state Department of Health emphasizes medical marijuana is for people who have one of the 28 qualifying medical conditions approved for enrollment eligibility in the program.
“Patients should consult with their medical providers regarding the use of medical cannabis while continuing to be in their care to ensure medical cannabis is the appropriate and best course of treatment to help relieve their medical condition,” he wrote.