Cannabis out of Court

Open records advocates withdraw lawsuit in the wake of the state agreeing to lift secrecy surrounding cannabis producers

Now that the New Mexico Department of Health has changed its rules that formerly kept the names of licensed medical marijuana producers secret, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and journalist Peter St. Cyr have dropped a pending lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed last summer in state district court in Albuquerque argued that the health department violated the NM Inspection of Public Records Act. The plaintiffs sought to force the state to release names, phone numbers and addresses of those currently in possession of, or applying for, medical marijuana production licenses.

"We appreciate the department's willingness to rethink and revamp its original confidentiality rules, which we've long believed were contrary to IPRA and incompatible with the Compassionate Use Act," Charles "Kip" Purcell, an Albuquerque attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in a press release.

The Foundation for Open Government, a nonprofit devoted to making government policies more accessible to the public, and St. Cyr began their attempt to make information about the marijuana growers public when the licenses were first issued in 2009, shortly after the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Law was passed, allowing people with certain medical conditions to buy from state-licensed producers.

St. Cyr has reported frequently on New Mexico's medical marijuana program. He said he is interested in the public's right to information.

"There is no reason for health regulators to shield the names of medical cannabis growers and sellers," St. Cyr said in an interview shortly after the suit was filed. Patients, he added, "want to know if the folks who want to make a living selling pot actually have horticultural experience or if they're just out to make money."

Although the names of patients with licenses to use medical cannabis remain restricted from public view, St. Cyr said he remains hopeful that his lawsuit will encourage other agencies to release more information.

"Now, I hope other agencies will see the writing on the wall and stop using their own administrative code to exempt themselves from our state's open record laws," he said.

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