Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Are you experiencing back pain? Are you trying to wean off opioids? Or, are you trying to manage your post-traumatic stress disorder? And are you planning on participating in recreational cannabis purchases to alleviate those ailments?
Well, that’s all great, but those are also all good reasons to join the state’s medical cannabis program, say longtime, established cannabis providers.
“Focusing on continuing to serve the medical community – it’s still a really important thing for us,” said Trishelle Kirk, chief operating officer of Everest Cannabis Co.
That’s a sentiment Verdes Foundation CEO Rachael Speegle echoed. But she added that it shows state officials that this program is just as important as recreational cannabis.
“Being a medical patient will continue to allow you to have priority access,” Speegle said. “It will continue to (show) our government officials that this program matters and that we should make sure to continue to improve on access for medical patients.”
Both Verdes and Everest will serve both the recreational consumer and medical cannabis patients.
Benefits of joining
“There’s a wide range of benefits – a wide range of availability that you can use cannabis without it not necessarily being about the head high,” said Katherine McKenzie, a nurse practitioner who runs the mobile clinic, Balanced Health NM.
The big incentive with the state’s medical cannabis program, Kirk said, is the fact that patients aren’t charged a sales tax for their purchases. Adult-use sales have a 12% excise tax added on, with gross receipts taxes levied on top of that.
But patients will also have access to other cannabis products that recreational users won’t, Kirk added. In the case of edibles, medical patients are allowed 50 milligrams per serving while adult-use customers are limited to just 10 milligrams per serving, according to rules set forth by the state.
“For a medical customer that’s been using for a long time to treat conditions or that may be experiencing high levels of pain – chronic pain and a variety of other conditions – having access to the higher dose of medical cannabis can be really, really helpful both from a cost savings perspective and also from a condition management perspective,” she said.
But being a patient also means there is protected supply. The Cannabis Control Division imposed a requirement that reserves at least 20% of cannabis production and sales specifically for medical patients. The Cannabis Regulation Act, however, says up to 25% of cannabis products can be earmarked for licensed patients.
Keeping enough supply on hand plus earmarked reserves should not be a problem for Verdes. As it stands, the company has added about four times the amount of product in preparation for adult-use sales.
“We’re going to look at it every single day and make sure that we’re meeting the needs of the patients,” Speegle said. “If that’s not happening, then we will change our initiatives and adapt very quickly.”
Individual care focus
Verdes Foundation has a handful of nurses that work for the organization. Those nurses train staff members on how to better serve medical patients, Speegle said.
That includes months of training, exams throughout the year and two weeks of shadowing a nurse before those employees can even begin serving patients. Verdes Foundation will also have “Medical Monday Mornings,” in which store hours (10 a.m. to noon) will be slotted for medical patients to purchase cannabis without the hassle of having to go when adult-use customers are in the store, Speegle said.
Everest, meanwhile, has set up its dispensaries to have two separate lines – one for medical patients and one for adult-use customers, Kirk said.
“If you know what you want (and are a medical patient) you can go around the line and get a faster experience,” Kirk said.
Operators say that medical cannabis and recreational cannabis don’t have to battle.
“We’re going to see a spike in adult-use and a decrease in medical-use because oh, well, we can just get it anyway,” McKenzie said. “But as it starts to even out, I think that we’re going to see more patients as the stigma kind of goes away as cannabis becomes more available. … I think that we’re going to see more medical patients truly coming out and finding the benefit of cannabis.”
And, McKenzie said, patients can still purchase cannabis recreationally even if they run out of units (patients are allowed a max of 425 units, or about 15 ounces, every 90 days).
Speegle said she doesn’t like the distinction between medical patients and adult-use consumption, saying that cannabis is a “wellness tool” for all consumers.
“I refuse to get sucked into the ‘this is (medical), this is recreational,'” Speegle said. “We’re all humans and our needs vary day-to-day based on illnesses and our environment. … I think that it is a disservice to treat it as though it’s one or the other.”