The New Mexico Department of Health rolled out a proposed rule this month to allow "smoking, vaporizing, and ingestion of medical cannabis products by qualified patients" in designated areas to comply with a new state law.

The public had a first chance to weigh in at a meeting Nov. 22. Another meeting on the proposal is planned for Dec. 10.

So far, only New Mexico, Alaska, Colorado and Massachusetts are working on plans to legalize the "consumption lounges" where people could smoke, vape or eat cannabis.

New Mexico's Senate Bill 406, approved in the 2019 session, ordered the creation of rules to govern these new spaces. For example, cannabis patients need to prove they've got a designated driver before they can consume on-site.

Other proposed rules stipulate that these lounges could only be run by licensed nonprofit producers already part of the Medical Cannabis Program. Cannabis consumption cannot be visible from any public place or from outside the lounge, and only qualified patients, their primary caregivers and employees of the Medical Cannabis Program can be on the premises (read the proposed rules in this document on page 42).

Perhaps the biggest heave for dispensary operators is that they must ensure patients "either leave the nonprofit producer's premises with a designated driver or utilize other lawful means of transportation from the nonprofit producer's premises."

Before it can get permission to open a lounge, a dispensary would also have to put together an operating plan that is then approved by the department. It has to include a security strategy and education materials about the dangers of driving under the influence.

Erica Rowland was the only person at last week's hearing to address the "consumption lounges" proposal. Officials also addressed other Medical Cannabis Program changes.

At the hearing, Rowland said producers have a golden ticket while patients pay for the use of cannabis every day.  She argues it would be better if the law allowed for lounges that aren't linked to particular dispensaries.

"I would like the patients to have a consumption lounge with their family members allowed," Rowland said at the meeting in the Harold Runnels Building. "The patients are going to be forced to buy the producers' product, potentially pay a fee and not have food, friends, the stigma removed or any social and recreational ambiance environment that we are trying to achieve."

Rowland hopes to see Santa Fe gain a more accessible way for patients to use the program.

"I believe the patients need more access to the program that they support," Rowland suggests. "We fund it, we pay the taxes as well as the testing. How do we know that we aren't encouraging black market manufacturing by not allowing patients to have a safe place to consume?"

DOH's Medical Cannabis Advisory Board plans to hold another listening session for the rules on Dec. 10 at 1:30 pm in the Harold Runnels Building in Santa Fe.

Health Department Media and Social Media Manager David Morgan says the decision on the proposal for consumption areas will be made no sooner than late February.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Rowland's name. SFR regrets the error.