Today, a four-physician Advisory Board recommending expanding and facilitating the qualifications for medical cannabis. The board, which advises the New Mexico Department of Health on its medical cannabis program,

voted to allow patients suffering from behavioral disturbances related to autism, traumatic brain injury, mental retardation or dementia to use medical cannabis

and voted unanimously to

eliminate the requirement that chronic pain sufferers get a second opinion

from a specialist to qualify for medical cannabis.

Today's hearing also included an update on the medical cannabis program, which according to Program Manager Dominick Zurlo now has

1448 patient

s (11 of the total cumulative patients enrolled are now deceased) and

only five licensed producers.

The numbers are impressive, but so is the backlog:

40 would-be producers are waiting for approval,

some patients still can't get legal cannabis and even Zurlo recognizes that the program "ha[s] not yet met patient need." Details from the meeting and updated figures after the jump.

The board's first order of business was a petition from Albuquerque nurse practitioner Bryan Krumm, who is also the director of New Mexicans for Compassionate Use and has a

of standing up for medical cannabis. Krumm highlighted the experience of an autistic patient who had been helped by

, a synthetic form of THC. The board voted 3-1 in favor of Krumm's petition, with the only misgivings coming from oncologist Tim Lopez, who cited a dearth of medical evidence for using cannabis to treat autism.

"There is limited evidence,"

Krumm tells SFR.

"They just haven't allowed the research, so you've got to look at the anecdotes."

It's a classic chicken-or-the-egg conundrum: Since cannabis isn't technically legal, it's hard to get funding or even permission (at least in the US) to research its medical uses. But without allowing certain medical uses—based necessarily, in Krumm's view, on anecdotal evidence from doctors and nurses—new research will be hard to come by.

The second petition, to allow a general category of "autoimmune disorders" as a qualifying condition, was rejected; most board members deemed the category too broad.

Perhaps the biggest victory for medical cannabis patients, though, was the

Board's unanimous decision to eliminate the need for a second opinion on chronic pain.

Dr Linda Gorgos, the Infectious Disease Bureau Medical Director, noted that 32 percent of New Mexicans (as compared to 12 percent of Americans) live in areas with a shortage of primary care physicians. Medical resources are largely concentrated in Bernalillo County, Gorgos said, and nearly a quarter of New Mexicans are uninsured—so

requiring a specialist's opinion can make qualifying for medical cannabis unattainable

for many sufferers of chronic pain.

"This is just a terrible burden on so many people," board member

said. "There are no specialists who will sign the paperwork. It's a real disservice to the patients." In the ensuing public comment period, plenty of patients, providers and even the program's former medical director, Steve Jenison, attested to this problem.

For now, the board's advice is just that—advice. Last month, Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil rejected two new qualifying conditions the board had recommended, citing a lack of supporting medical evidence.

"We're going to have this problem over and over

again unless we become more forceful," Elting said, referring to what many attendees see as Vigil's unwillingness to take chances with new qualifying conditions.

While parents of autistic adult children and chronic pain sufferers who can't afford a specialist wait for Vigil's decision on these latest recommendations, though, the Medical Cannabis Program would do well to focus on serving its existing patients, approximately 70 percent of which are below 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($43,320 for an individual). That will mean qualifying more producers—and making sure the ones that are qualified are actually serving patients.

According to charts like the one below, furnished at the hearing by the Dept of Health, at least one of the five producers licensed to provide medical cannabis

isn't actually providing it.

To wit (click to enlarge):

This next group illustrates

prices and delivery fees for each producer.

(Note: Prices in the top chart are per gram.)

...and this one

itemizes New Mexico's medical cannabis patients

according to qualifying conditions and county of residence.

For more charts and information, visit the DOH's