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Court orders state to allow dispensaries

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A district court judge has ordered the New Mexico Department of Health to provide official designation for two medical marijuana dispensaries owned by New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health Inc., and to process future requests from the company “in a timely and legally compliant manner.”

The judge also told the Health Department to issue the appropriate license amendments to Ultra Health for any proposed dispensaries, past or future, that meet the statutory criteria.

Chief Judge Louis P. McDonald released the order last week. In it, McDonald concluded that the Health Department “(does) not have discretion” in designating new dispensary locations once a licensed producer completes its statutory requirements. He also ruled that the reasons given by the department for denying designation for Ultra’s already-built dispensaries in Los Lunas and Española had no basis in either the 2007 Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act — the legislation that created the state’s medical cannabis program — or the relevant regulations.

Ultra Health stated in its petition that the department objected to its Los Lunas dispensary in part because the store is located inside a senior living facility. The department took issue with the Española store because it had allegedly not demonstrated it could stock an additional dispensary location, among other reasons.

In an email, Health Department spokesman Paul Rhien said the department is reviewing the judge’s decision and “considering . . . next steps for appeal.”

“Our focus will always be on ensuring that patients have safe access to medicine,” wrote Rhien.

President and CEO of Ultra Health Duke Rodriguez said in an interview that he had been certain his side would prevail in the case.

“The statute is very clear about the requirements, and it never talks about the Department of Health having discretion in designating these sites,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said that as of Monday, Ultra Health had still not received the designations for the Los Lunas and Española sites and would consider taking the state back to court to compel it to do so.

Last week, Ultra Health broke ground on a dispensary in Clayton. The company has opened nine dispensaries in New Mexico and plans to operate 20 by the spring of 2019, according to Rodriguez.