Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico's limit of 450 medical cannabis plants per producer will expire Friday after a district judge denied the state's bid to extend the limitation.
At least one licensed nonprofit producer on Monday cheered the ruling last week by 1st District Judge Sarah Singleton.
Singleton denied the New Mexico Department of Health's request to stay a judgment that gave it 120 days to create new rules regarding the state's limitation on medical marijuana plants for licensed nonprofit producers. The 120-day period ends Friday.
Barring further legal action, the per-producer limit will expire then, according to Ultra Health LLC President and CEO Duke Rodriguez. Ultra Health is a licensed producer in New Mexico and one of the plaintiffs in the case.
The case stems from a 2016 lawsuit filed by former Bernalillo County resident Nicole Sena, who argued she couldn't find sufficient CBD oil – a product derived from cannabis – to treat her daughter's medical condition in New Mexico and subsequently had to move “to a neighboring state.” Ultra Health later joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff.
New Mexico's medical marijuana program has long been plagued by complaints from producers and patients that the plant count is too restrictive.
The plaintiffs argued in the complaint that the production limits “have created a dire situation for certain patients, who simply cannot find the products they need and/or cannot obtain the adequate supply of products they are lawfully entitled to access and maintain under the (Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act).”
The act created the state's medical marijuana program in 2007.
On Nov. 1, Judge David Thomson ruled the 450-plant count was arbitrary and capricious and said the Health Department had 120 days to create new rules. Thomson became a state Supreme Court justice in January and was replaced on the case by Singleton.
In a statement, Health Department spokesman David Morgan said the agency is “assessing next steps as it pertains to plant count.”
“Safe access to quality medicine is a top priority of the New Mexico Department of Health's Medical Cannabis Program,” Morgan said.
New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who is an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he and his clients are talking to the Health Department about an interim rule that would be amenable to both parties.
“Our clients do not wish to engage in any further litigation,” Egolf said. “This is a legacy lawsuit from the last administration. If we can find a way to satisfy our clients without litigation, we want to find that way. I don't know if that's going to be possible or not.”
Egolf declined to comment on what sort of plant count might satisfy his clients, or other details of the conversations between the parties.
Rodriguez said that he was “very excited” by the development and that Ultra Health has invested around $1 million in preparing to ramp up its operations.
“We've probably hired more than 50 people in the last 90 days alone,” Rodriguez said.
Meanwhile, the Legislature is considering a bill that would legalize recreational use of marijuana throughout New Mexico. On Saturday, House Bill 356 passed its second committee and is headed to the full House.