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Editorial: State must stop growing its pot program in dark

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If the New Mexico Department of Health’s medical marijuana program is legit, how come so much of its business is done in the dark?

The state won’t allow the public to see what should be public information – not the names of the physicians who prescribe the pot, not the dispensaries that grow it and fill the prescriptions, not the owners and employees who set the prices, fill the vials and, because health insurance doesn’t cover this Rx, rake in the cash.

Not even with a black light.

None of that information would violate federal HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy provisions; after all, we aren’t talking about patient information.

We’re talking about 965 medical providers and 23 pot dispensaries, many just a Google search away, some who have written prescriptions based on a phone or Skype interview, and some that might have been in the Health Department’s redacted list of providers that included arrests and/or convictions for prostitution, drug dealing and other crimes – but no names.

In 2007, when New Mexico lawmakers legalized medical marijuana, their goal was to relieve the suffering of some of the state’s most vulnerable patients. But the Health Department’s paranoia over public information has caused the program’s credibility to suffer. Journal investigative reporter Thom Cole has found that six years in, there is no government acknowledgement of – much less accountability for – the fact some doctors are prescribing a lot more than others, some counties (Sierra and Mora) have a disproportionately larger rate of patients per 1,000 residents compared to the state average (13 vs. 5), and that while the program was sold to the public as a way to ease the suffering of those stricken with AIDS and cancer, the top qualifying condition is the harder-to-quantify post-traumatic stress disorder (4,068, or more than 40 percent, of patients), with chronic pain as No. 2 (2,773 patients).

Throw in a doctor who admits to using medical marijuana himself before prescribing it to others, and the program has all the elements of a bad stoner movie, say “Harold and Kumar: Panama Red or Green Dream?”

Gov. Susana Martinez, a career prosecutor, was not a fan of the medical pot program when she was elected, in great part because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Now that the program is under her purview, she should step in and ensure it is at the least transparent and at the most accountable.

And that means growing it in the sunlight.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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