LAS CRUCES – New Mexico’s medical cannabis program enrollment passed 70,000 patients in February, according to state Department of Health statistics. The precise figure was 70,109.
Doña Ana County now has 6,057 patients enrolled in the program. The county is the third largest in state-approved cannabis patients, after Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties.
Although the highest concentration of licensed dispensaries is in Bernalillo County, cannabis provider Ultra Health celebrated improved access in New Mexico’s rural areas, noting that 95 percent of enrolled patients have at least one dispensary in their county of residence.
In Luna County, Ultra Health has been renting commercial space in downtown Deming since 2016, when it obtained a special use permit to operate a dispensary there, but the store has never been stocked and has remained closed while the provider and DOH argue over plant count limits and supply for additional dispensaries.
Until a dispensary opened in Silver City in 2017, Luna County patients had a choice of obtaining a personal production license (PPL) or traveling to Las Cruces and risk confiscation of their medicine at the Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 10.
On Thursday, Ultra Health spokeswoman Marissa Novel told the Sun-News Deming’s dispensary was expected to open “sometime in the second quarter of 2019,” but a definite date was not available.
While the medical cannabis industry continues a rapid rise, New Mexico Legislators are debating how, or if, recreational cannabis should be regulated in the state. A House-backed bill now in the Senate would allow recreational cannabis to be sold through state-run stores.
Plant count limits
The state regulates the number of plants for medical cannabis use that may be produced by commercial providers and patients holding personal production licenses, it says, in order to prevent excess cannabis being sold on the black market and attract federal scrutiny that could lead to interference with the program, as cannabis remains forbidden under federal law.
On March 1, the DOH temporarily increased the limit on the number of plants licensed providers may cultivate from 450 to 2,500 in response to a November court ruling that the previous limit was arbitrary.
Although the revised plant count is a 500 percent increase over the previous limit, it still dwarfs the number of plants that may be produced by patients authorized to grow their own. The new rule did not modify that limit.
DOH spokesman David Morgan told the Sun-News that while subsequent action could modify plant counts for those growing their own, “at this time the department does not have any immediate plans to modify the PPL plant limit. The department intends to survey patients, and as part of that survey process may ask questions related to PPL’s.”
If all 7,590 PPL patients cultivated the 16 plants currently permitted to them, that would amount to 121,400 home-grown cannabis plants versus 87,500 plants that may be cultivated by the state’s 35 licensed providers.
For New Mexico’s largest medical cannabis provider, that represents valuable market share as it seeks to expand its enterprise to underserved parts of the state.
Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AlgernonActor on Twitter.
©2019 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.)
Visit the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.) at www.lcsun-news.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.