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Lawsuit seeks license to grow marijuana

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SANTA FE – Patients relying on marijuana to ease their pain and suffering are finding that medicinal pot is in short supply and expensive, according to a lawsuit filed this week against the state Department of Health, which is refusing to do anything about the shortage.

Santa Fe resident Mark Springer and his company, Medical Marijuana Inc., have been trying to gain a license from the department for about five years to grow marijuana, without success. The lawsuit seeks to force the department to reopen the application period for qualified marijuana growers while also allowing them to grow more pot, said Springer’s attorney, Brian Egolf.

The state’s approval process is so rigid and onerous that it is causing hardships for patients through a shortage of marijuana, according to the lawsuit Springer filed Monday in state District Court.

Asked for comment, Department of Health spokesman Kenny Vigil said the department “is not aware of a lawsuit on behalf of Mark Springer.”

Egolf said Springer has completed all requirements for a license, yet still has been rejected with no explanation.

“Mark has spent a lot of time and effort to get the department to talk to him and they keep telling him ‘We’re not going to discuss this with you,’” Egolf said. “This was Mark’s last resort.”

In a best-case scenario, the court could issue a writ requiring Department of Health representatives to appear in court to discuss their reasoning, Egolf said, which could happen in a matter of weeks.

The department is obligated under the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act to “ensure a reasonably sufficient cannabis supply for the demand of qualified patients to treat their debilitating conditions,” the lawsuit said.

But to obtain a license, it said, “a producer must submit an extensively detailed application,” which includes a list of eight different categories, ranging from employees’ national and state criminal histories to a written set of criteria describing distribution methods.

Licenses are granted for a year, renewable annually through the application process. In 2013, the department granted 23 licenses for new and renewing growers, each of which can produce no more than 150 mature plants.

This is the same number of licenses and renewals the department has issued since 2010, according to the lawsuit.

In the meantime, however, the number of patients has grown from about 3,000 to about 10,000, it said, adding, “The number of qualified patients increased by more than 10 percent in 2013 alone.”

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