Secretary of state Health Department’s action intended to make sure medical marijuana only available as a treatment of last resort
State Health Secretary Dr. Alfredo Vigil on Tuesday rejected a board’s recommendation that would have made it easier for patients with chronic pain and some behavioral illnesses to qualify for the state’s medical marijuana program.
The move is intended to ensure that medical marijuana “is only available to people who need it as a treatment of last resort,” the New Mexico Department of Health said in a written statement announcing the decision.
The announcement comes at a time when the number of patients who qualify for medical marijuana is increasing rapidly, outpacing the ability of five state-licensed growers to meet the demand.
The state has 1,664 patients enrolled in the program, up from 948 in December. About 565 patients are approved to produce marijuana for their own use.
“Severe chronic pain is by its nature a subjective and broad classification,” Vigil said. The state does not intend medical marijuana to become “the standard of care for any and all conditions that may result in pain,” he said.
Chronic pain now is one of 16 conditions that allow New Mexicans to legally buy or grow pot under the state’s medical marijuana program.
But the existing rules require patients to get approval from both a primary care physician and a specialist in chronic pain to enroll. Patients also must have “objective proof,” such as imaging tests supporting their claims.
Vigil also rejected a recommendation from the Medical Advisory Board that would have added autism, traumatic brain injury, mental retardation and dementia to the list of approved conditions.
Julie Roberts, interim director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said some New Mexicans, particularly in rural areas, have trouble obtaining treatment from specialists.
“It seems unfair for patients who are struggling from severe chronic pain to be ineligible to apply for the program because they cannot access, or can’t afford access, to a specialist,” Roberts said.