There’s little point to an advisory board when advice goes unheeded — and that’s what appears to be happening in the case of the New Mexico Cannabis Program.
The advisory board made recommendations — including allowing opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition for the cannabis program — and the secretary of the Department of Health said no. What’s so troubling about Secretary Lynn Gallagher’s decision to ignore the advisory board is that the Legislature — in bipartisan fashion — also had approved adding opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition. The bill, by the way, was sponsored by a Republican, passing both chambers. Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the legislation, saying she did not want to “eliminate an important responsibility” of the Medical Cannabis Board. Now, it appears that the governor let her health secretary shoot the board down.
In a five-page decision, Gallagher also declined to allow Alzheimer’s disease as a condition for joining the program, rejected telemedicine as an avenue for enrolling new patients and declined to increase how many marijuana plants nonprofit providers may grow. Basically, every recommendation made by the board late last year was rejected.
We understand that the secretary does have the last word, but her decisions seem less about what might be good for sick people and more about this administration’s long-standing disapproval of cannabis for medical treatment. Supporters of its use in helping addicts overcome opioid dependency point to research, scholarly articles and their firsthand experience.
Considering the breadth and depth of the opioid epidemic, this is something New Mexico should try. Cannabis has been shown to help with withdrawal symptoms, including a loss of sleep. More study is needed, of course, but letting people use medical marijuana to help ease addiction would add to our knowledge base.
As for Alzheimer’s disease, any treatment that gives comfort to sufferers and caregivers should be investigated. Recent clinical studies appear to show that the THC found in marijuana may be able to reduce the production of the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s; other compounds found in marijuana seem to reduce the inflammatory response in the brain, easing the damage caused by the condition.
These are preliminary studies, but researchers — from such respected institutions as the Salk Institute — believe they show promise. With so few treatments for Alzheimer’s available, it makes little sense to say no to one that could ease suffering and is unlikely to cause harm.
The board, inApril, recommended additional program changes, and we will have to wait and see how fast Gallagher will move on these recommendations. Board members want to add six other conditions to the 20 ailments that can qualify patients for the program and ask that the department increase the amount and potency of cannabis a patient can possess. New conditions being proposed include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; autism; anxiety; depression; chronic headaches, including migraines; sleep disorder; and dystonia, a neurological condition. The secretary should have a sense of urgency as she considers her decision; the people suffering from these conditions need answers.
Obviously, marijuana is not the cure for all that ails sick people. But it has proved to ease suffering, especially for pain, and should be made more widely available for people whose doctors prescribe it. The state Department of Health, charged with running the program, should err on the side of saying yes. Then, doctors and patients can determine the best treatments, leaving decisions to the individual and keeping government out of personal medical choices.