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Judge puts medical pot residence rule on ice

SANTA FE – The doors to New Mexico’s medical marijuana program could be thrown open to Texans – and other out-of-state residents – under a state judge’s Monday order that state officials issue identification cards to qualifying patients regardless of where they live.

The decision by District Judge Bryan Biedscheid gives the Department of Health, which runs the state’s medical cannabis program, until later this month to prove why the ruling should not be made permanent.

An agency spokesman said Monday the department had not received a copy of the judge’s signed writ of mandamus but planned to file a response by Aug. 19 – the deadline imposed by the judge.

The judge’s ruling came 10 days after three out-of-state residents filed an emergency petition with the court over the DOH’s denial of their applications to be license-carrying patients in the state’s medical cannabis program.

One of the plaintiffs, Duke Rodriguez, is an Arizona resident who is president and CEO of Ultra Health LLC, a prominent licensed medical marijuana producer. Rodriguez, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, is also a former New Mexico human services secretary.

“It’s unfortunate these matters have to be adjudicated in the courts when the law is clear and specific,” Rodriguez told the Journal. “This was the best outcome possible and bodes well for nonresident patients having uninterrupted access to medical cannabis as the Legislature fully intended.”

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 rapidly increased in recent years.

There were 74,100 active patients statewide as of June, compared with 48,861 in September 2017.

Meanwhile, the residence dispute hinges on a new law that took effect in June and, among other things, changed the definition of “qualified patient” by removing a requirement that an enrolled member of the medical cannabis program be a New Mexico resident.

Department of Health officials have maintained the change was not intended to allow non-New Mexico residents to obtain medical marijuana cards, arguing that such a shift would encourage the transport of cannabis across state lines, in violation of both federal and state laws.

Although opening New Mexico’s medical marijuana program to out-of-state residents could pose legal issues, it could also have a big economic impact.

A study conducted by former state tax policy director Kelly O’Donnnell and commissioned by Ultra Health found that roughly 2 million Texas residents live within a two-hour drive of New Mexico. If just 1% of those Texans were to enroll in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program, that would mean an increase of 20,000 patients – or more than a quarter of the program’s current enrollment.

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