Anna* figured it was the high elevation of Santa Fe, and didn't think much of the numbness in her feet six years ago. But by last October, after she had moved to Las Cruces, heavy pain had replaced the numbness.

"It got so severe, I get shooting electric shock pains through my leg," Anna tells SFR. "I couldn't get from the bed to the bathroom. That got my attention, and I went to the doctor."

A few months later, Anna, who works in the financial sector and is in her 60s, was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, a painful nerve condition without a cure. Pain management is a victim's only recourse.

Doctors prescribed the anti-seizure drug gabapentin and the opioid painkiller tramadol. She also applied for and received a medical cannabis card in June, hoping that adding cannabis to her regimen could restrict the need for habit-forming opioids.

She had begun experimenting with cannabis products that contained different ratios of both THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, and the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD, when the state of New Mexico slapped a ban on CBD and hemp products sourced from out of state at the end of June.

In its June 7 letter to cannabis dispensaries, manufacturers, testing labs and couriers, New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program Director Kenny Vigil said the state had learned some businesses were importing the products, a practice he said violated the 2007 Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act. Vigil warned that such sales would be illegal.

Patients like Anna suddenly were less able to easily obtain cannabis products with varying ratios of THC and CBD, which patients and some research have reported to be far more effective for treating pain than either compound alone.

Some dispensaries have questioned the program's strict interpretation of the law, which says licensed producers cannot "obtain or transport outside New Mexico" and that cardholders must obtain cannabis "derived solely from an intrastate source."

In response to several questions, state Health Department spokesman Paul Rhien replied to SFR: "This is not a new requirement, nor is it a new interpretation. We have simply been working with Licensed Non-Profit Producers to make sure they are compliant with existing requirements under the law."

Anna says the shift has meant she has to procure CBD/THC products from Colorado. Without that, she would likely have to pop more tramadol pills to manage her pain, she says. Although not as addictive as other prescription drugs like hydrocodone, the US National Library of Medicine says tramadol is associated with severe withdrawal symptoms typical of other opioids.

"When I have cannabis in a blend [of THC and CBD], I can take one or two tramadol [a day], and three on a bad day," Anna says. Without the blend, she takes up to four tramadol daily.

Dispensary owners, like Sacred Garden's Zeke Shortes, say that the patients they serve have voiced similar discontent.

“We were making 1:1 CBD-to-THC products for very specific conditions” such as post-traumatic stress disorder, Shortes tells SFR. “Now, [these patients] have to go around and buy CBD at other places like Whole Foods, and mix it themselves.”

Shortes says his dispensary is sitting on about $160,000 worth of products mixed with CBD from out of state and is slowly having to toss them as they begin to expire.

In the meantime, Shortes says he and four other producers, including Ultra Health, the largest cannabis dispensary in New Mexico by revenue and no stranger to suing the DOH, have been discussing a joint lawsuit against the Department of Health to undo the CBD ban.

"The DOH is making all sorts of rules without due process; promulgating all these rules without due process," Shortes says.

On June 25, the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, a new group that came together that same month, sent a letter to DOH in which it said the ban would require dispensaries “to devote a disproportionate amount of their resources to the creation of CBD products, and thereby reduce the availability or increase the cost of THC products needed by patients.”

“We think [the CBD ban] is an overextension of what the state’s responsibilities are,” says Vince Galbiati, the chamber’s executive director. “The dispensary, as far as the consumer is concerned, is the intrastate source.”

Jason Barker, an organizer with the patient advocate group Safe Access New Mexico, says the DOH did “a good thing” by instituting the ban on CBD products from out of state. He adds that the DOH should increase producers’ annual limit of 400 plants if it wants to do it right.

“[T]he state needs to increase the plant count for producers [to 900], and then set a requirement that ‘x’ amount of CBD plants must be grown,” Barker writes in an email to SFR.

As a consumer and patient, Anna says the DOH’s rationale is unclear to her.
What is it they are concerned about? Is it [tax] revenue?” she asks. “It doesn’t seem to be at a decision made with compassion for patients with highly painful diseases.”
Editor’s Note: Anna asked that her name be changed for fear of losing her job because she has a medical cannabis card.