Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico state government agencies tasked with implementing a cannabis legalization law do not plan to increase pot purchase limits for medical marijuana patients once the law takes effect in June, they told cannabis producers on Wednesday.
But leaders of the two agencies said the Regulation and Licensing Department would unveil proposed rules this month revising cannabis production limits for producers, among other issues.
They also said enrolled patients would be allowed to purchase greater quantities of cannabis once commercial sales begin – likely in early 2022 – but would have to pay taxes on all purchases in excess of the current possession limits.
The state’s stance could lead to litigation by certain producers who have expressed concern over possible product shortages and have pushed for the plant count limit to be raised immediately.
“I think it probably will result in some need for a formal adjudication of the issue,” Duke Rodriguez, CEO and president of Ultra Health Inc., the state’s largest medical cannabis producer, said in an interview Wednesday.
He also said the state’s stance “flies in the face” of a commitment to protect medical cannabis patients while launching the new recreational cannabis industry.
“This is almost a death sentence to the medical program,” Rodriguez told the Journal.
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 played a role in the debate over the cannabis legalization bill that was approved during a two-day special session and subsequently signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The governor called the special session in March after a previous version of the bill stalled during the final hours of this year’s 60-day legislative session.
Among other provisions, the final version of the legalization bill will eliminate the state’s gross receipts tax from medical cannabis sales starting June 29.
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.
That could set up a conflict with the medical cannabis program, which has an effective purchase limit for patients of 230 grams – or about 8 ounces – every 90 days.
The Wednesday letter from the heads of the Department of Health and the Regulation and Licensing Department was a response to a previous letter sent last month by five medical cannabis producers.
Although recreational sales do not have to start until April 2022, the producers argued the new law will allow medical cannabis patients to purchase and possess larger amounts of marijuana than would be sustainable under the 1,750-plant count limit for producers.
But Health Secretary Tracie Collins and Regulation and Licensing Superintendent Linda Trujillo said that reading of the new law is based on a “misunderstanding” and that purchase limits for medical pot patients will remain in place – at least temporarily – once cannabis possession is legalized.
Under New Mexico’s cannabis legalization law, a newly-formed state division within the Regulation and Licensing Department will begin accepting applications for cannabis producer licenses on Sept. 1.
Many of the state’s 33 licensed medical cannabis producers are also expected to seek licenses for the new recreational industry.
However, New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ben Lewinger said the cannabis legalization law is aimed at bringing more producers into the industry, not just expanding the operations of current producers.
He also described the work being done by the state Regulation and Licensing Department to implement the new law as crucial, even if lawmakers need to make changes to it in future years.
“I have a lot of faith the work they’re doing now is going to continue the momentum created by passing the (legalization) bill,” Lewinger said.