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Agency scales back changes proposed for medical pot

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SANTA FE – A New Mexico state agency is backing away from some of its proposed changes to the state’s medical marijuana program after those plans came under fire from licensed medical pot producers and users.

A top-ranking Department of Health official told lawmakers Thursday that the agency will withdraw two proposals – criminal background checks for patients approved to grow their own medical marijuana and a reduction in pot plants for personal consumption.

Currently, patients can grow up to four plants and 12 seedlings, and the proposed change would have allowed two plants and six seedlings.

In addition, the department plans to revise its proposed new fee structure for licensed producers. Other changes, including a first-ever $50-per-year fee for users to renew their registry ID cards, are still being weighed by the agency.

“The department received a lot of feedback through public comment and has decided, based on those comments, that it intends to make changes to some of the proposed rules,” Health Department spokesman Kenny Vigil told the Journal. “The department takes the feedback it receives very seriously and will continue to review it.”

The announcement was made at an interim legislative committee hearing at Taos Pueblo and was applauded by medical cannabis advocates.

“We are pleased to see they are coming to their senses on the proposed changes,” said Emily Kaltenbach, the director of the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance, who testified at Thursday’s hearing.

She said the two proposed rule-making changes that will be scrapped would have hurt the program by making it more difficult to obtain legal pot.

Meanwhile, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, the vice chairman of the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee, also said he was encouraged by Health Department officials’ receptiveness to public feedback.

The proposed changes to the medical marijuana program were unveiled by the Health Department in February after an internal survey found the program was struggling to supply a growing number of patients. They include changes in fees, testing and plant limits.

However, the proposed changes have been blasted by those who would be affected most – medical marijuana providers and users, many of whom are military veterans.

About 500 people showed up last month for a public hearing on the proposals in Santa Fe, with most opposed to the proposed changes. In addition, 963 people submitted written comments, although the Health Department did not have a breakdown of how many were in favor of the proposals and how many were against.

Currently, the state has 23 licensed medical marijuana providers who are limited to growing no more than 150 marijuana plants each. Although licensed providers would be able to grow up to 450 plants under the proposed changes, they would have to pay higher fees to the state.

The state’s medical pot program was created in 2007. There are 11,327 patients enrolled, according to the Department of Health.

The agency will make its final decision on the remaining proposed changes after it receives a hearing officer’s report, Vigil said. That report is expected to be turned over by the end of this month.

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