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Editorial: NM medical cannabis users must be protected

Like it or not, the advent of recreational marijuana is going to change a lot, including how the medical pot program works.

When the state approved a medical marijuana program in 2007, it put limits on how much enrollees could buy, 8 ounces every 90 days. The state tracks sales through a registry.

Then came the approval of recreational cannabis in March. Lawmakers put no limits on recreational marijuana sales; those 21 and older will be able to buy up to 2 ounces at a time, no limit on the number of purchases.

The state said last week it does not plan to increase purchase limits for medical marijuana patients until after recreational sales kick in, in part to prevent product shortages.

But with producers limited on the number of plants they can grow, and recreational sales having to start no later than April 2022, we could very well have a situation in which recreational buyers can stock up and shelves are emptied. Health Secretary Tracie Collins and Regulation and Licensing Superintendent Linda Trujillo said last week that purchase limits for medical pot patients will remain in place – at least temporarily – once recreational cannabis is legalized.

The 112,000 in the medical program will not have to pay taxes within the purchase limits come June 29.

And businesses would have to make at least 25% of their sales to patients through the end of 2022.

After that, state regulators would have the option of requiring cannabis establishments to set aside a certain portion of their stock for medical cannabis patients, among other steps, to address shortages.

But is this enough? Some growers fear purchases for medical card carriers may be difficult if recreational demand outstrips the supply of plants.

The medical program requires that patients undergo a physical exam and be certified annually – in theory, that provides physician oversight and guidance for using marijuana products to alleviate various conditions, from glaucoma to MS. These are the individuals medical marijuana was legalized to protect.

Duke Rodriguez, CEO and president of the state’s largest medical cannabis producer, Ultra Health Inc., says the current setup “is almost a death sentence to the medical program.”

And it will be unless regulators figure out how to balance supply and demand.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.