A hearing at the Department of Health this morning that solicited public comments on proposed rule changes to New Mexico's medical cannabis laws stretched on for two and a half hours. Next, hearing officer Craig Erickson has 30 days to provide a recommendation to Secretary of Health Kathy Kunkel, who will make the final decision about changing the plant cap for growers. Erickson called the meeting "productive" said he hoped to have his report completed by the end of the month.
The department gave producers, patients, medical professionals and advocates five minutes each to express their concerns about the rules, which include a higher plant count than the previous one on the books, but still lower than an emergency cap that was implemented earlier this year, as well as changes to measures about seedlings and personal production license holders.
While some praised the changes compared to previous plans, commenters picked on aspects of the regulations that still seem out of sync—such as a definition that any plant over 8 inches is considered a fully grown plant.
"The plant limitation based on seedling versus non-seedling is irrational and not based on evidence," said Duke Rodriguez, CEO of Ultra Health, the largest producer in New Mexico. "Not based on actual producers. Not informed by actual agricultural practice. It is arbitrary and capricious." He would prefer a distinction between flowering plants that are ready for sale or manufacture and plants that have not yet flowered.
Monique Chavez, a lawyer and founder of Southwest CannEvents, pointed out the difficulty ethnic minorities have entering the industry and requested the requirement that producers have no felony record be removed.
"We cannot allow people of color to not have entry or not have a way to get into the industry," Chavez said. "Also, please remove the felony requirement. Some of the people who founded this industry are now being shunned."
Zeke Shortes, owner of the Sacred Garden dispensary, said the fees associated with licensing producers are becoming untenable, and the costs must be passed on to patients. Those fees go towards paying the staff and expense of the medical cannabis program.
"I know we need the state to have enough money for the program. But why don't we make the pharmaceutical companies pay for it?" Shortes said to huge applause. "There the ones responsible for the opioid issues we have in this state, and they have more money than God, so let's let them pay for it."
Other speakers had requests for the hearing officer that were not currently addressed in the proposed rule changes, such as an exemption for personal production license holders who need more than the allotted number of plants to meet their own needs.
Joseph Garcia Sr., the father of a patient who suffers from debilitating seizures, said that of 21 different kinds of medicines his son had tried to cope with his condition, the only one that worked was cannabis. Garcia is unable to afford to buy cannabis for his son, now in his 30s, instead opting to grow his own. But the limits on the number of plants allowed by a personal production license make it difficult to grow enough.
"If you're seeing your son having a seizure because he's out of oil, it'll break your heart," Garcia said at the meeting. "Just tear you to pieces." But the cost of keeping up with his son's need is still great, and Garcia said through tears that he and his wife have spent around $200,000 treating their son with cannabis over the past few years. "We just can't afford it."