SANTA FE – A dispute over whether recent changes to New Mexico’s medical cannabis laws mean out-of-state residents can now enroll in the state’s program could end up in court.
A prominent licensed producer has challenged the state Department of Health’s stance that the changes to the laws – which took effect June 14 – do not open the doors for residents of Texas, Arizona and other states to be license-carrying patients under New Mexico’s program.
Ultra Health LLC has filed a letter with the Department of Health asking the agency to change its position within a 14-day period. If the agency does not, Ultra Health is prepared to file a lawsuit, its president and CEO said.
“From every attorney we’ve had review it, there’s no dispute,” said Duke Rodriguez, a former state Cabinet secretary whose company runs 17 medical cannabis dispensaries around New Mexico.
Among other changes, the new law amended the definition of “qualified patient” by deleting a requirement that a patient be a New Mexico resident.
But DOH officials say allowing non-New Mexico residents to obtain medical marijuana cards would encourage the transport of cannabis across state lines, in violation of both federal and state laws.
“For this and other reasons, the department does not believe it would reasonable to interpret the statute as permitting nonresidents to enroll in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program,” agency spokesman David Morgan told the Journal.
He also said there have been no discussions to date on the issue with Ultra Health, describing the company’s interpretation of the revised statute as “out of step” with what the Department of Health will adopt.
The recent changes to New Mexico’s medical cannabis laws also directs the state agency to enact new rules by March 2020 that grant reciprocity for licensed patients in other states with medical cannabis laws on their books.
The department plans to comply with that timeline, Morgan said. He also added the rules will only allow nonresidents to participate in the program for a limited time while visiting New Mexico.
Ultra Health is no stranger to disputes with state agencies, having filed a lawsuit against Expo New Mexico after the company was told it could not bring live cannabis plants or related paraphernalia for display at the State Fair.
The medical marijuana production and distribution company also joined a 2016 lawsuit that a state-imposed limit of 450 plants per producer was too restrictive. A state judge ultimately ordered the agency to create new rules regarding plant count limits.
New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, is an attorney for Ultra Health but has maintained that his work with the medical marijuana industry has no influence on his work as a legislator.