Updated at 4:50 p.m.
Medical patients in New Mexico who suffer from Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disorder will now be able to treat their symptoms with medical cannabis.
Department of Health spokesman Kenny Vigil told SFR this afternoon that Health Secretary Retta Ward has approved two petitions that were referred to her by the department's Medical Cannabis Advisory Board in November. A third petition to allow marijuana use for Traumatic Brain Injuries was rejected by Ward earlier today.
Parkinson and Huntington patients will have to have their diagnosis confirmed before their medical marijuana applications are certified. Once they are legally allowed access, patients will face challenges finding ample marijuana supplies.
More than three months after a patient survey revealed chronic shortages of medical marijuana here, licensed patients across the state continue to struggle to find safe and legal access to their medication.
A fourth quarter producers’ report prepared by the New Mexico Department of Health in February and obtained by SFR earlier this week shows New Mexico’s 23 non-profit producers only harvested 432,475 grams, or 954 pounds, for 10,647 active patients as of Jan. 31.
In order to provide each patient three ounces, or 84 grams, of marijuana every quarter, some growers claim they need to package close to 900,000 grams a quarter. But health officials say the number is less, because a third of the patients are licensed to grow their own medication.
Producers like Willie Ford from R.
Greenleaf Organics in Albuquerque had wanted Ward's Medical Cannabis Program managers to change department regulations and double the number of mature plants producers are allowed to grow at any given time. Currently plant counts are capped at 150.
Ford says he could meet demand and lower his prices if the Department of Health would allow him to have 300 to 500 mature plants.
Just after 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, the Department of Health announced its plan to deal with medication shortages, but the proposed changes have left some current producers and market analysts baffled.
The proposed rule change will keep the existining cap on mature plants, but will double the number of seedlings producers can have from 150 to 300.
The rule changes will require a a public comment period before they are implemented.
Ward also says she'll consider licensing 12 additional producers, but the application period for that will not start until the other rules changes are finalized.
“We take the needs of medical cannabis patients very seriously. The Department commissioned a survey so that a decision about supply could be made based on data,” said Secretary Ward. “We now have a plan to meet current and future patient needs.”
Ford isn't happy with the options announced on Friday.
"I am profoundly saddened by the callous indifference of the current administration, not only in their shortcomings in dealing with the serious medical needs of a large health-challenged population, but also in their apparent ease of ignoring the legal rights of our citizens," says Ford. "Gov. Susanna Martinez's appointees seem to have no problem neglecting the needs of the seriously ill and obviously feel that their opinions and political leanings trump the will of the people of the State of New Mexico."
Before the rule changes were announced this afternoon, not everyone agreed with Ford's desire to simply increase plant counts for exisiting producers.
Medical Marijuana Radio Host Larry Love wanted the department to open up the program to new producers.
“There’s been a shortage for the last five years,” says Love. “It’s time for some new blood.”
He points to 4th Quarter Production Report that shows two licensed producers harvested less than 6,000 grams of medical marijuana for the last three months of 2013.
“We need to find and license people who are willing to produce medicine for patients,” says Love.
Friday's decision could boost cannabis yields and boost sales tax revenue collected by the
While Colorado collected over $1.2 million in taxes from legalized marijuana sales in January and estimates it will haul in up to $100 million in taxes this year, New Mexico collected just $297,500 in taxes on $4.4 million in sales from October to December 2013.
The Dec. 31 report shows patients, on average, purchased 22 grams in the final three months of 2013. That could because of cost barriers, shortages, or other lack of access in some rural parts of the state.
Bernalillo and Santa Fe County, with 53 percent, continue to have the largest number of active patients. Harding County only has one active patient.
The Medical Adivisory Board will meet again in April and could consider additional medical conditions for the program. As of Friday, Vigil says no patients have submitted a petition for the panel to review.
Reporter's Note: Portions of this story regarding plant limits and new producer applications were updated after SFR received a late afternoon news release from the Deptartment of Health. This version also includes reaction to the proposed changeds from Mr. Ford that was not included in the original post. We've also corrected the conversion of grams to pounds.
Cannabis program stats as of Jan. 31, 2014:
Qualifying Medical Condition Active Patients County Active Patients Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) 10 Bernalillo 4,124 Cancer 826 Catron 14 Chronic Pain 3,017 Chaves 177 Crohn's Disease 83 Cibola 130 Epilepsy 233 Colfax 59 Glaucoma 115 Curry 128 Hep C Under Treatment 39 De Baca 12 HIV/AIDS 255 Doña Ana 626 Hospice Care 20 Eddy 151 Inflammatory autoimmune-mediated Arthritis 140 Grant 115 Intractable Nausea/Vomiting 306 Guadalupe 20 Multiple Sclerosis 230 Harding 1 Painful Peripheral Neuropathy 478 Hidalgo 9 PTSD 4,614 Lea 85 Severe Anorexia/Cachexia 125 Lincoln 165 Spasmodic Torticolis (Cervical Dystonia) 7 Los Alamos 61 Spinal Cord Damage with Intractable Spasticity 140 Luna 45 McKinley 98 Mora 56 Otero 186 Quay 36 Rio Arriba 280 Roosevelt 31 San Juan 403 San Miguel 288 Sandoval 841 Santa Fe 1,541 Sierra 168 Socorro 100 Taos 195 Torrance 117 Union 10 Valencia 375 Total 10,647