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Medical cannabis residency bill approved by Senate

A bill that would bar non-New Mexicans from enrolling in the state’s medical cannabis program passed the Senate on a 32-8 vote on Saturday. (Dean Hanson/Journal)

SANTA FE — A bill that would bar out-of-state residents from enrolling in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program is headed to the House, after winning approval in the Senate late Saturday.

Backers say the legislation, Senate Bill 139, would “fix” a change in state law enacted last year that opened the door for non-New Mexicans to get medical marijuana ID cards if they meet qualifying criteria.

They also said the practice could lead to the federal government shut down New Mexico’s program if another state were to file a lawsuit.

“What this bill does is make sure we’re not enabling people to violate the laws of their state,” said Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque.

As of last month, 613 out-of-state residents — most of them from Texas — had enrolled in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program.

Opponents of the legislation, which is supported by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration, said the proposal could hurt those living just outside New Mexico’s border that cannot legally access medical cannabis in their home states.

“It’s just a humanitarian issue, plain and simply,” said Sen. Jeff Steinborn, a Las Cruces Democrat.

This year’s measure was ultimately approved by the Senate on 32-8 vote. It comes after an in-state residency requirement was removed as part of a broad medical cannabis update bill that Lujan Grisham signed into law last year.

After last year’s bill took effect, three out-of-state residents applied for New Mexcio medical marijuana cards but were denied.

They then filed a court challenge, leading to a state judge’s ruling in August that the Department of Health must allow nonresidents to participate in the program if they meet eligibility requirements.

The agency is appealing that ruling to the Court of Appeals, and state attorneys have argued last year’s bill was not intended to open up the state’s medical cannabis program to non-residents.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney in the court challenge is House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who announced this week he will excuse himself from any consideration of the this year’s bill.

Specifically, Egolf said he will ask other lawmakers to determine any committee assignments for the measure and will not cast a vote on it.

If this year’s bill is approved, the more than 600 out-of-state individuals who have enrolled in the program would get to keep accessing medical marijuana in New Mexico — but only until their current, one-year ID cards expire, according to the Governors’ Office.

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.

There were 81,771 patients enrolled in New Mexico’s program as of last month, according to DOH data.

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