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Medical cannabis shortage predicted

The dispensary at Verdes Foundation in 2016. Questions are being raised about potential conflicts between the new law and the state’s medical marijuana program. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The ink is still drying on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature approving a landmark cannabis legalization bill, but questions are already being raised about possible conflicts between the new law and New Mexico’s medical marijuana program.

Five medical cannabis producers wrote in a letter to state officials this week about concerns that the recently approved legalization could lead to a supply shortage for medical marijuana patients starting this summer.

Although recreational sales do not have to start until April 2022, they argued that the new law will – starting June 29 – allow medical cannabis patients to purchase and possess larger amounts of marijuana than would currently be sustainable under a controversial plant count limit for cannabis producers.

New Mexicans who are not enrolled in the medical program will also be able to possess, grow and use cannabis as of that date, state officials have said.

“It has been the common experience of the undersigned producers that patients do not purchase as much cannabis as they truly wish to buy,” the five producers said in their letter. “They buy what they are legally allowed to buy, they buy what is available and they buy what they can afford.”

A spokesman for the state Department of Health, which currently oversees the medical cannabis program, said Wednesday that the agency was still reviewing the letter.

But the burgeoning dispute could be among the first signs of the difficulties of implementing the new law, which Lujan Grisham signed Monday after lawmakers approved it during a special session last month.

Enrollment in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program has skyrocketed in recent years, and there were more than 112,000 licensed patients as of March, according to Health Department data.

Protections for those patients were among the many aspects of the cannabis legalization bill debated during the two-day special session, which was called by Lujan Grisham after a previous version of the bill stalled during the final hours of a 60-day legislative session.

Among other provisions, the final version of the cannabis legalization bill will eliminate the state’s gross receipts tax from medical cannabis sales starting June 29.

It will also require retailers to make a certain percentage of their sales to medical cannabis patients during the initial ramp-up of the new industry.

Once the new law officially takes effect, adults age 21 and older will be allowed to possess outside the home up to 2 ounces of marijuana, 800 milligrams of edible cannabis or 16 grams of extract. Those would also be the limits on how much a customer could buy at one time.

However, there will be no restriction on how much cannabis people could keep at home, as long as it’s out of public view.

Those provisions could set up a conflict with the state’s medical cannabis program, which imposes a 1,750 mature plant limit on cannabis producers and an effective purchase limit for patients of 230 grams – or about 8 ounces – every 90 days.

In their letter, the cannabis producers said the current plant count limit could force patients to buy marijuana products from the black market or from other states.

For that reason, they requested that state agencies immediately raise the limit to at least 5,500 mature plants.

They also suggested a lawsuit could be filed if no action is taken, which would represent a new round of legal battles over plant count limits.

Duke Rodriguez, CEO and president of Ultra Health Inc., the state’s largest medical cannabis producer, said that under the new law, patients enrolled in New Mexico’s medical marijuana program will no longer face the current purchase limits.

He said that, and other provisions in the bill, could essentially allow cannabis patients to make an unlimited number of purchases once it takes effect.

In addition to Ultra Health, the other four cannabis producers that signed onto the letter were Sacred Garden, Kure, Budding Hope and G&G Genetics.

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