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Editorial: As state boosts pot plants, it needs to boost oversight

New Mexico’s new state leaders certainly aren’t beating around the, er, bush when it comes to making allowances for market forces driving the state’s medical marijuana industry.

When it became apparent that the 450-plant limit imposed on nonprofit marijuana producers early on was just not going to cut it compared to New Mexico’s ever-escalating demand, the state Department of Health temporarily raised that number to 2,500 in March as an emergency relief measure. The department last week unveiled the slightly less drastic proposal it hopes will work in the long term: a 1,750-plant limit. Not 2,500, but more than triple what was allowed until recently, according to a June 12 Journal story.

At this point in N.M.’s marijuana history, the move makes sense. The lawsuit filed in 2016 by a former Bernalillo County resident who argued she couldn’t access enough cannabis-derived oil to treat her daughter’s medical condition was convincing evidence 450 plants per grower just wasn’t enough.

Not only would the Department of Health’s proposal open up growers’ capacity; it also would allow for a bit of built-in flexibility. Starting in June 2021, qualifying marijuana growers would be allowed to request a 500-plant increase if they are almost tapped out and a product demand remains.

But increased production brings other concerns:

• Will regulators be able to keep pace with production?

• How good is quality control? For the 73,350 qualified medical patients, is the strain and delivery system they choose correct for their condition and their dosage appropriate?

• What steps has New Mexico taken – or should it take – to protect consumers from price gouging?

Best practices are still a moving target in the fast-evolving marijuana industry. As it ramps up the allowed number of plants – and the qualifying medical conditions – the Health Department also needs to ramp up its efforts to protect consumers, who in this case are also patients.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.