'Big Messy Family'

Medical pot groups seek common ground with state regulators

Medical marijuana patients and producers want the New Mexico Department of Health to make a few more changes to proposed new cannabis program rules before finalizing them and submitting them to the State Register.

A hearing this morning on newly revised proposed rules, attended by about 250 people, wasn’t nearly as contentious as one held in June, where hundreds of patients and producers spent hours screaming their discontent.

David Romero White, who hopes his group Organtica is one of the first to be issued a new nonprofit producer’s license next year after new rules are published, compared the relationship between producers, patients, advocacy groups, lawmakers and department program managers to a “big messy family” trying to get along during the Christmas holidays.

White thanked program managers for listening to stakeholders and incorporating public comments into their new set of proposed rules.

Dr. William Dougherty, who treats patients with cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder, wasn’t so supportive.

“You have injected yourself into this program in a way the act never intended,” Doughtery told the department’s General Counsel Chris Woodward and Program Manager Ken Groggel.

Dougherty also told independent hearing officer Susan Hapka he doesn’t like rules that require patients to see specialists after being certified. Those professionals, Dougherty insists, have no additional knowledge about the effectiveness of marijuana than primary caregivers.  He says the department made rules changes without collecting much data and 'the decisions appear to be political.'

“You need to stop stepping into places you have no business,” says Dougherty.

But New MexiCann Executive Director Len Goodman, whose been licensed to serve patients in New Mexico since 2009, says he’s seen a big shift in the department’s mindset since the June meeting and thanked them for engaging in dialogue because it helped create a “working relationship.”

“Not one where we all agree, but at least we see the same goal: making the program better for patients,” says Goodman.

Goodman wants regulators to consider marijuana’s history as “the mother herb” for 5,000 years. “It’s not dangerous, and doesn’t need to be regulated,” he says. A few patients told Hapka they feel like the proposed rule changes make them “feel like criminals.”

New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patient Alliance President Tim Scott points to new limitations on THC concentrate potency levels being cut to 60 percent. He says some patients need higher doses for relief.

“To dumb this down or weaken it is irresponsible,” Scott says.

Emily Kaltenbach, with the Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, says her group appreciates the department’s willingness to listen to the public and make adjustments, but still has concerns over patient privacy issues and access to medication.

During public comments, Kaltenbach’s associate Jessica Gelay announced that former Medical Cannabis Advisory Board Chairman Dr. Steve Jenison will be reappointed to the board. His term expired last year and Health Secretary Retta Ward initially declined to reappoint him to a new term.

The state has already recieved more than 800 written comments about the proposed rules. Comments may be submitted until Jan. 5.

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