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Toke '09

Dude, where's my medical marijuana?

April 21, 2009, 12:00 am

Robbie W was stabbed when he was in the sixth grade. He survived.

When he was 16, he was launched 42 feet from the bed of a truck in a car wreck. He landed on his head and broke his wrist, but survived.

When he was 18, he was carjacked at gunpoint, then dragged behind a building where he was sure he was going to be executed. A random passerby scared the perpetrator away.

Again, Robbie survived—but each subsequent trauma damaged him.

“I was doing good until 1996,” Robbie says. “Then my insurance stopped supporting my prescription medicine. They changed it to something else, which caused me to have a breakdown. I’ve been struggling ever since.”

Robbie lives in Austin but began making preparations to move to New Mexico when he learned the medical marijuana program’s advisory board would be approving post-traumatic stress disorder as an eligible “debilitating” condition.

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Dave Maass

Dr. Steve Jenison oversees New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program.

“I checked out California and I actually qualify for five or six conditions there, but the cost of living is just outrageous,” he says. “New Mexico cuts my expenses down by a third compared to Austin.”

Now, Robbie is traveling back and forth between Austin and northern New Mexico in order to maneuver the bureaucratic system set up by the health department.

There are, of course, restrictions and requirements in that system. Patients with marijuana growing licences are limited to four plants, which must be grown out of public view. Nonprofits may keep up to 95 plants, but the organization must be able to both grow and distribute to clients.

The department has sole authority to determine how many nonprofit producer licenses will be issued and to whom. According to Milam, the department has received seven applications to date and approved one grower. The organization claims it can serve 85 patients, more than double the department’s estimation for a 95-plant facility.

(Click here to read excerpts from application forms, including descriptions of the facilities’ “menus.” In each case, the DOH has redacted all information that could identify the producer because of confidentiality policies).

As producers begin production, this confidentiality policy brings up questions of oversight. The DOH was granted powers that would normally be distributed among several government agencies: the Department of Agriculture and the Environment Department have no authority to inspect the horticulture techniques or land and water usage; the Regulation and Licensing Department will not review licenses. If the DOH decides to cap prices, it would be taking an action normally under the purview of the Public Regulation Commission.

In essence, all regulation and oversight powers belong to Jenison and Milam, who have no authority to disclose the identities of producers, even if one is found to be in violation of the act. However, in an effort to improve transparency, the DOH passed regulations requiring producers to open their sales books to clients.

The opacity doesn’t bother Robbie. He points out that each nonprofit producer must have at least three patients on its board of directors and, since those patients’ names are also confidential, the producers have begun advertising on Craigslist.

Craigslist has been an important tool for Robbie. Through the site, he found a landlord who will allow him to grow pot on her property, provided he has the appropriate license. That’s his task of the moment; he’s gathering his medical records from Austin to transfer to a doctor in Taos who’s willing to consider recommending him for the program.

Robbie isn’t interested in the dispensaries: He wants to live peacefully in the country and grow his own.

“That’s why I’m moving to New Mexico,” he says. “That would be much more economical than trying to purchase pot. As of right now, I’m on a very fixed budget.”


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