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Medical pot providers split on proposed new limits

SANTA FE – New Mexico medical cannabis providers expressed mixed views Friday about whether a limit of mature 1,750 plants – as proposed by the state Department of Health – would be high enough to keep up with the program’s steady growth.

Some nonprofit providers described the agency’s proposed plant limit as arbitrary and suggested a higher limit of 5,000 plants to ensure that enrolled patients have a wide range of cannabis products readily available.

But others said the proposed 1,750 plant limit would be sufficient to meet patients’ demand.

“We believe that’s going to be more than enough medicine,” said Robert Munro, the executive director of Seven Clover, a licensed medical cannabis producer in Albuquerque, and president of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors.

The plant limit is one of several changes that were recently proposed by the Department of Health in an attempt to address chronic medical marijuana shortages and past bureaucratic backlogs.

After a Friday public hearing on the changes in Santa Fe, state DOH officials said they expect to have new rules in effect by late August, though they could be altered from what was initially proposed.

The 1,750 plant limit would be less than currently allowed but far higher than in previous years, as the new cap 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.

The proposed rule change would exempt marijuana seedlings, or young plants that do not yet have flowers, from the total plant count limit.

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.

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 74,100 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 month, the Department of Health added six new qualifying conditions for enrolling in the program, including opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s disease and autism.