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Gov. lifts secrecy veil on medical pot producers

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The names of New Mexico medical marijuana dispensaries and their employees will soon be made public, under a directive announced Wednesday by the office of Gov. Susana Martinez.

The Republican governor’s decision will reverse a long-standing confidentiality provision in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program and comes less than a week after a lawsuit was filed in an attempt to strike down the regulation that allows for the names of medical marijuana producers to be kept secret.

It will not apply to the 15,625 certified patients in the medical pot program – just the producers and their employees.

“The governor has taken a close look at this issue over the past several weeks, and she does not believe this information should be confidential any longer,” Martinez spokesman Chris Sanchez told the

Journal . “In a move that will provide better transparency, the governor has directed the New Mexico Department of Health to change the rule, which would now make that information public for the first time.”

To enact Martinez’s directive, the Health Department will have to formally change the confidentiality rule, enacted during the administration of then-Gov. Bill Richardson. It was unclear Wednesday how long the rule-making process might take.

Previously, the department had defended the confidentiality rule as necessary for the security of medical pot producers and patients, with an agency spokesman saying in 2013 the release of producer information could lead to production locations being disclosed and patient information being compromised.

The Department of Health already provides a list of licensed dispensaries to patients whose doctor certifications for use of medical marijuana are approved by the agency. In addition, some of the producers advertise openly on the Internet.

New Mexico’s medical pot program was created in 2007, after state lawmakers approved the “Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act” and Richardson signed it into law.

In the lawsuit filed last week, freelance journalist Peter St. Cyr and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government argued that the secrecy regulation wasn’t permitted under the state’s open records law.

“Executive agencies cannot exempt their records from the Inspection of Public Records Act by administrative fiat,” the plaintiffs said in the lawsuit, filed in state District Court in Albuquerque.

In addition, the current policy deprives New Mexicans of information about their neighborhoods and could lead to “cronyism and corruption” in the awarding of state licenses, the lawsuit argues.

Under New Mexico’s medical marijuana program, patients can apply for a medical marijuana card under 22 conditions. Chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder account for the largest segment of certified users.

The 15,265 certified patients as of June 30 represents an increase of nearly 60 percent from July 2013. Meanwhile, there were 3,741 individuals with active personal production licenses, according to Health Department figures.

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