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Medical cannabis for nonresidents on hold

District Judge Bryan Biedscheid. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Despite a judge’s order last month, New Mexico’s Health Department is refusing – at least for now – to widely issue medical marijuana identification cards to qualifying out-of-state residents.

The Department of Health has told applicants in recent days that it is asking the judge to reconsider his ruling and, as such, is not granting ID cards to non-New Mexicans until the legal dispute is resolved. An appeal could also be filed.

“Due to the pendency of the motions before the District Court, the court’s ruling is not yet final, and as noted, the court’s ruling may be stayed pending an appeal,” Health Department spokesman David Morgan said Tuesday.

But the agency’s defiant stance could have legal consequences, as the attorney for three out-of-state residents who won the court judgment last month has filed a motion suggesting the state medical cannabis program director should be held in contempt of court.

“Simply put, there is no legal authority on which (the program’s director) may ignore this court’s orders and commands and decide not to comply with the court’s directives,” said attorney Brian Egolf, who is also the speaker of the state House of Representatives.

The legal back-and-forth represents the latest twist in a court case that could open the door for thousands of non-New Mexico residents to legally obtain medical marijuana in New Mexico.

District Judge Bryan Biedscheid ruled last month that New Mexico must allow nonresidents to participate in its medical cannabis program, after the definition of a “qualified patient” was changed in a bill signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

State attorneys had argued the statute change was not aimed at allowing out-of-state residents to participate in New Mexico’s medical marijuana program, while also saying that such a shift would encourage the transport of cannabis across state lines, which is illegal under both federal and state laws.

They also argued in their recent court filing that it should be up to the state – not the courts – to decide how new laws are implemented, and that the change in question in this year’s bill was a simple drafting error.

If upheld, the judge’s ruling could cause enrollment in the medical cannabis program to double, attorneys for the Department of Health and the Governor’s Office claim.

It could also place a strain on new plant limits – of no more than 1,750 mature plants – for medical marijuana producers that the Health Department recently adopted.

However, individuals behind the court challenge say the department’s current legal position flies in the face of the judge’s order.

“We respect each person’s right to exercise every remedy available but for a civilized and law-respecting society to exist, we must respect the rules of judicial proceedings and valid orders from our courts,” said Duke Rodriguez, one of the three out-of-state residents who filed a lawsuit against the state. Rodriguez, who lives in Arizona, is president and CEO of Ultra Health LLC, a prominent medical cannabis producer.

“No agency or individual is above the law,” he said.

Although the Department of Health has refused to widely issue medical cannabis identification cards to out-of-state residents, the agency did provide ID cards allowing for personal use to the three individuals involved in the court challenge, including Rodriguez.

New Mexico launched its medical marijuana program in 2007 and enrollment has steadily increased in recent years. There were 77,141 patients in the program as of August.

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