Medical cannabis patients wary as commercial sales begin in NM - Albuquerque Journal

Medical cannabis patients wary as commercial sales begin in NM

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – With New Mexico poised to launch commercial cannabis sales on Friday, state health officials are seeking to reassure the roughly 132,000 New Mexicans enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program that they won’t be left empty-handed.

The Department of Health, which oversees the medical cannabis program, said this week there will be a “stable, long-term” supply of cannabis products, despite an expected market rush once recreational sales begin after a year of planning and rule-making.

“We are proud to help more than 132,000 New Mexicans who use cannabis to alleviate pain and other medical symptoms,” said Dominick Zurlo, medical cannabis program director.

But some medical cannabis advocates remain concerned, citing past supply shortages and access issues.

Jason Barker, an Albuquerque resident and medical cannabis patient, said dispensaries should devote some business hours exclusively for card-carrying patients.

He also said the state has alerted medical cannabis users that they will no longer be allowed to use curbside delivery for cannabis purchases, an option that was implemented during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic to limit person-to-person contact.

“It’s going to be a hard reality for the medical patients,” Barker said in an interview. “Right now, patients have access to 100% of the supply (of licensed dispensaries) and are still having issues.”

A state Cannabis Control Division spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday that curbside delivery has been discontinued, saying it would represent an unlawful sale outside of a licensed business under the state’s current licensing system.

But Heather Brewer, the agency’s spokeswoman, pointed out that new rules adopted after the 2021 approval of recreational cannabis for New Mexico adults, allow licensed couriers to make home deliveries.

Meanwhile, Cannabis Control Division Director Kristen Thomson on Tuesday likened the opening day of cannabis sales to the first day of a new Broadway show, saying it’s likely some cannabis retailers will sell out on Friday.

“We definitely understand that excitement can lead to short-term shortages,” Thomson told the Journal.

Other states that have legalized recreational cannabis in recent years have dealt with supply shortages. In Illinois, for instance, some dispensaries imposed purchase limits and others were forced to close temporarily as demand outpaced supply after legal sales began in 2020.

While Thomson did not make guarantees, she cited guardrails in New Mexico’s recreational cannabis law intended to protect medical cannabis patients.

That includes a requirement imposed by the Cannabis Control Division that producers reserve at least 20% of their cultivated plants for enrolled medical patients.

The state’s legalization law allows the agency to require up to 25% of cannabis products be earmarked for licensed patients.

With the start of adult-use cannabis sales looming, the Department of Health recently increased the amount of cannabis licensed patients can obtain – from 8 ounces to 15 ounces every 90 days.

Patients can also purchase cannabis under the state’s recreational cannabis program, which has a purchase limit of up to 2 ounces of flower – and similar limits for edible products and cannabis extract – but does not limit how much cannabis can be stored at an individual’s home.

In addition, taxes will also be levied on commercial cannabis sales, while medical cannabis purchases were exempted from taxation under the law signed last year by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

That could represent a significant savings, as the excise tax for marijuana sales will be set at 12%, with gross receipts tax levied on top of that.

New Mexico launched its medical cannabis program in 2007 and enrollment has surged in recent years – from 48,821 enrolled patients in February 2018 to 131,924 patients as of last month.

Patients must be authorized for a license by a health care professional and there are currently 28 qualifying conditions, including severe chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. Those two conditions are cited by the majority of enrolled patients statewide.

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