After months of contentious public debate, New Mexico Health Department Secretary Retta Ward has adopted three new sets of medical marijuana rules for patients, producers and even her own Medical Cannabis Advisory Board. Once they’re published in the State Register next Friday, Ward says she will consider reopening the license application process for up to a dozen new nonprofit producers.
Patients tell SFR they generally support the new rules that allow them to purchased 8 ounces of medication every three months (two more than current rules permit), but they continue to question why THC potency levels have been capped at 70 percent.
To supply the new demand, producers who have been limited to growing 150 plants at a time will now be permitted to grow up to 450 plants, but annual licensing fees will triple from $30,000 to $90,000.
Most patients who have relied on growers to test their products for mold, fungus and pesticides and proper dosing information, also support rigorous new testing protocols included in the new rules.
Attorney Jason Marks says the new regulations “have real benefits for patients.” The changes, he hopes, will make the program more structured and predictable.
“Looking at the big picture, the advocacy of patients, producers, and groups like Drug Policy Alliance and Cannabis Producers of New Mexico has resulted in significant improvements to what the Department of Health initially proposed, and then re-proposed during this nine-month process,” says Marks.
But, new testing regiments, he says, could keep pot prices high. R. Greenleaf Organics founder Willie Ford said his group is considering the option to build their own testing lab.
“Good producers will be able to maintain low costs for patients through their nonprofit practices,” says Ford, adding that he thinks the regulators “put a lot of thought and research into developing a solid set of rules that will allow us to serve patients safely and efficiently.”
The average price for a gram of pot is $10, but prices increase dramatically for edible products and other cannabis-derived products like butane hash oil.
Emily Kaltenbach, with the Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico, tells SFR she’s pleased the department dropped fingerprint and other biometric identification requirements, but is concerned about rules “not dictated by state law.”
Kaltenbach wanted regulators to drop a rule that requires patients with irreversible diseases, like multiple sclerosis, to reapply for the program every year.
“At the very least, they could have done that for the terminally ill,” says Kaltenbach.
David Romero White, who's 2010 producer application was approved, but who never received a license, plans to apply again this year.
When SFR called his cell phone Friday morning, it’s was clear he’s not wasting anytime preparing.
Laughing, Romero White answered his phone with a question, “What do you want? I’m busy applying for a license.”
Optimistic about his chances to be licensed this time, he says, “This is definitely a huge step in the right direction."
“We all can now breathe a collective sigh of relief and move forward,” he says, noting that he's pleased the regulations were completed a week earlier than expected.
Rule Changes of Interest:
- Producers will be authorized to increase their plant count to 450 plants. Patients will be allowed 230 grams of dried bud per quarter. That’s an increase of 60 grams over current limits.
- While most cannabis-derived products will have a 70 percent THC potency cap, patients with some debilitating diseases will be able to apply for a medical exemption and purchase products with higher dosages.
- Growers will now be required to test their cured cannabis and cannabis-derived products like edibles and butane hash oils for microbiological contaminants, mycotoxins, heavy metals, and solvent residues, and quantity of THC and various cannabinoids before sales and distribution, or for any other use.
- Patients can now ask approved labs to test their stash.
- After considering fingerprints and other biometric identification requirements, the department settled on patient photo identification.
- From now on, if you lose your patient registration card you’ll have to pay a $50 fee replacement fee. Maybe department employees should just head over to Fed Ex Kinkos and get them done for less than $5.
- Patients and primary caregivers are required to keep pot in a secure area out of the reach of children.
- Three is definitely a crowd in regulators’ minds. Only two personal grow licenses will be issued for a single property.
- And if you rent your living space, you’ll need to get your landlord’s approval before going all hydroponic.
SFR has posted all three sets of new rules, a letter from program Manager Ken Groggel to producers and a department information sheet below.