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Budding Ruts

As NM’s medical pot program grows, so do its obstacles.

August 18, 2010, 1:00 am
“Hamstrung,” “underfunded,” “very hard to contact” and plagued by “ideological barriers”? Just another day in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program.

This year, the program turned three—the equivalent of a teenager in the world of medical marijuana legislation. If California and Colorado are the wild, popular teens who know the best places to sneak an underage cocktail, then New Mexico is that shy kid who’s good at school and, his parents hope, will eventually run a non-investment bank.

But in keeping with the metaphor, New Mexico’s medical cannabis program remains plagued by growing pains.

To start, with more than 2,000 total patients enrolled as of July 6, and only 11 certified medical marijuana producers (each limited to 95 plants), there remains a constant dearth of reliable medical pot.

Robert Jones, a cancer patient in Las Vegas who’s been licensed in the medical cannabis program since 2007, has almost always been without a steady supply. He’s one of more than 800 patients also licensed to grow but, when he was hospitalized several weeks ago, his plants died.

These days, he finds marijuana where he can.

In July, the Department of Health certified six new producers—but some, such as Medzen Services, have yet to produce a single ounce.

Tom Boutwell, a licensed patient who serves on Medzen’s board, says Medzen is building a production facility.

Growing mature, high-quality plants will take another three to four months plus drying time, according to Randy Mazur, an experienced grower in Carlsbad.

Mazur himself has been trying for 19 months to get a grower’s license, but employees at the DOH, he says, “drag their feet.”

One impact from the lack of producers, according to Bryan Krumm, a certified nurse practitioner who serves on the board of a Cibola County-based producer, GrassRoots Rx, is “patients get put into a lottery and only get their medication once every three months.”

The program’s most veteran producer, however, disagrees with the common wisdom that the program doesn’t have enough producers.

Donna, a representative from the Santa Fe Institute for Natural Medicine (who declined to give her last name), says in a voicemail to SFR that “the problem with the new producers is they really just don’t know how to produce…they’re trying to say it’s someone else’s fault that they don’t know how to do their job.”

SFINM, the program’s first licensed producer, has 700 members, she says, “and we’re able to serve every one of them.”

Even those who maintain that New Mexico’s medical marijuana program’s shortcomings stem from the DOH’s management of it, acknowledge the budget and staffing challenges the department faces. With a team that fluctuates between one and three employees and a mandate to respond to all new patient applications within 30 days, certifying new producers or even responding to patient questions can be slow going.

“My medical marijuana card expired in July,” Boutwell tells SFR. He’s been trying to contact the DOH for weeks—“I’ve sent many emails; I’ve called”—without success. As a result, he doesn’t know if he can use cannabis legally.

What he does know is that his use of it so far has been transformative.

“I was on 14 pills for pain management, costing me a fortune,” Boutwell says. Now, he’s down to four, he’s lost 50 pounds and his blood pressure has dropped back to normal.

“There’s no question that medical marijuana has been super-beneficial,” he says. But now, he adds, “We [need to] get together and discuss streamlining this and getting it to the people who need it.”

 

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