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NM proposes 1,750 plant limit for marijuana suppliers

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s plant limit for licensed medical marijuana providers would be set at 1,750 plants – less than currently allowed but far higher than in previous years – under a proposal unveiled Tuesday by the state Department of Health.

Hailey Salazar, an assistant grower at Verdes Foundation, inspects grown marijuana plants for bugs and male flowers. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The agency said the proposal attempts to strike a balance between ensuring adequate supply for those enrolled in the state’s medical cannabis program, while avoiding an excessive surge in pot production.

“Our focus here is to better provide a medical cannabis system that guarantees safe access for patients to safe medicine,” Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel said Tuesday in announcing the proposed rule change.

If approved, the new limits would replace an emergency rule adopted by the department in March that raised the plant count for nonprofit producers from 450 to 2,500 plants.

That was in response to a judge’s order in a 2016 lawsuit filed by a former Bernalillo County resident 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 elsewhere.

Brandon Archuleta, an assistant grower at Verdes Foundation, waters young marijuana plants. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

As of earlier this year, most of the state’s 35 licensed producers had expressed an interest in upping their plant count under the emergency rule, according to Department of Health officials.

New Mexico launched its medical marijuana program in 2007 – the law is officially called the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act – and the number of people enrolled in the program has skyrocketed in recent years.

There were more than 73,000 active patients around the state as of last month, compared with 48,861 in September 2017.

In addition to the proposed change in plant limits for nonprofit producers, the administration of first-term Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has also enacted other changes to the program.

Just last week, the Department of Health added six new qualifying conditions for enrolling in the program – including opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s disease and autism.

Lujan Grisham also signed a bill in April that will, starting on Friday, allow for the use of medical marijuana in schools, while also extending the length of an approved patient identification card from one year to three years.

Emily Kaltenbach, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, described the changes as necessary after few changes were enacted during the administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez.

“Patients have expressed their frustration with the shortage in medicine,” Kaltenbach told the Journal. “I think these are really important and timely changes to the program.”

As for the medical cannabis plant limits, marijuana seedlings, or young plants that do not yet have flowers, would be exempt from the proposed rule change unveiled Tuesday.

In addition, starting in June 2021, licensed nonprofit producers would be able to request an increase of 500 permitted plants if they could show they are nearing supply capacity to meet product demand from qualified patients.

The Department of Health will hold a public hearing on the proposed rule change on July 12 in Santa Fe.