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Gov. backs ‘fix’ for medical pot law

A medical cannabis plant

A medical cannabis plant

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – More than 400 out-of-state residents enrolled in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program may have their card-carrying days numbered.

That’s because Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration is backing a proposed “fix” to the state’s medical marijuana laws that would bar Texans – and other out-of-state residents – from obtaining state-issued ID cards.

The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 139, is the latest twist in a saga that started last year when the definition of “qualified patient” was changed – partly by removing an in-state residency requirement – under a bill that Lujan Grisham signed into law.

After the bill took effect, three out-of-state residents applied for medical marijuana cards but were denied.

They then filed a court challenge, leading to a state judge’s ruling that New Mexico’s Department of Health must allow participation by nonresidents who have qualifying medical conditions.

In just a few months, a total of 421 out-of-state residents, most of them from Texas, had enrolled in the program, according to the most recent DOH figures.

But state attorneys have argued the law change was not aimed at allowing out-of-state residents to participate in New Mexico’s medical marijuana program, describing that part of the bill as a drafting error.

They also argued the judge’s ruling could eventually cause enrollment in the program to double.

“The whole intent from Day One was not to throw it open,” said Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor.

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said that if the bill wins approval, out-of-state individuals who enrolled after the judge’s ruling will get to keep accessing medical marijuana in New Mexico – but only until their current, one-year ID cards expire.

He also said the situation is different from a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana for adult use, which the Lujan Grisham administration is also supporting.

Allowing out-of-state residents to enroll in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program makes it difficult to gauge how much marijuana providers and participants should be allowed to cultivate, Stelnicki said.

“We can’t calculate the need of the entire Northern Hemisphere or the globe,” he told the Journal.

However, Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of Ultra Health LLC, a prominent licensed medical cannabis producer, said the Lujan Grisham administration’s stance on the issue makes no sense.

He pointed out many of the out-of-state residents who have enrolled in New Mexico’s medical pot program either work or live part time in the state and spend tax dollars here.

“It makes no logical sense why they should be punished,” Rodriguez said in a Wednesday interview.

In addition, Rodriguez pointed out that the proposal to legalize cannabis would not limit use to New Mexicans, but would allow anyone ages 21 or older to purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries.

“We continue to be totally confused about justifying the logic for protecting the medical program” while the state is also pushing for legalizing recreational marijuana, said Rodriguez, an Arizona resident who was one of the three plaintiffs in last year’s lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the Roundhouse debate on the proposed legislation will play out as the state is still appealing last year’s ruling by District Judge Bryan Biedscheid.

The Court of Appeals has not indicated when it might take up the state’s appeal.

Overall enrollment in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program has skyrocketed in recent years as additional dispensaries have been opened around the state and more qualifying conditions have been added. Last year’s bill also allowed for reciprocity between New Mexico and other states with similar programs, and that would not be affected by this year’s proposal.

There were 80,257 patients enrolled in New Mexico’s program as of last month, according to DOH statistics.

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