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State advised to go slow on pot rules

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SANTA FE – The New Mexico Department of Health should take its time before implementing proposed rule changes to the state’s medical marijuana program, a state-appointed hearing officer has recommended.

Many of the proposals, which include changes in fees, testing and plant limits, have come under fire since being unveiled by the agency earlier this year.

In a July 25 report, hearing officer Susan Hapka recommended the Health Department hold a second public hearing on the medical pot proposals and wait until an advisory board meets later this month before deciding whether to adopt them.

In response, agency spokesman Kenny Vigil said the department will indeed wait until after the advisory board meeting before making any decisions.

However, he said the agency has not decided whether it will hold another public hearing on the matter.

A June hearing in Santa Fe drew a crowd of about 500, with most opposed to the proposed rule changes. In addition, nearly 1,000 people submitted written comments to the agency.

The criticism from medial marijuana providers and users – many of whom are military veterans – prompted the agency to back away from some of its proposed changes.

Specifically, Health Department officials said last month that they planned to withdraw two proposals – criminal background checks for patients approved to grow their own medical marijuana and a reduction in pot plants for personal consumption.

In addition, the department said it planned to revise a new fee structure for licensed producers, with producers being allowed to grow up to 450 plants at one time, at an increased fee, under the revised proposal.

Len Goodman, executive director of the Santa Fe-based NewMexiCann Natural Medicine, one of the state’s 23 licensed medical marijuana providers, said the Department of Health appears to have taken public feedback to heart.

“I am guardedly optimistic because they have made significant changes that are very important,” Goodman said Tuesday. “From my perspective, the public process is on track.”

The Health Department crafted its proposed changes to the medical pot program after an internal agency survey found a supply shortage for a growing number of patients.

More than 11,000 patients are enrolled in the Medical Cannabis Program, which was created by lawmakers in 2007.

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