The ongoing decline of medical cannabis patients in New Mexico “can be attributed to high prices and a lack of available medicine, pushing patients out of the existing medical model into the illicit market,” according to a recent news release from UltraHealth, the state’s largest cannabis business.
As SFR reported in May, state officials had initially anticipated medical cannabis patients would decline upon adult recreation legalization last year and then rebound, but the rebound did not occur. In its news release, UltraHealth cites a 37% decline between May 2022, the program’s apex, and last month’s figures of 85,028 patients, the lowest enrollment in the program since March 2020.
“When one-third of what was once a robust participation in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program vanishes, this should be considered an utter failure,” UltraHealth CEO and President Duke Rodriguez says in a statement. “The deprecation of the program has been predicted and cautioned time and time again. Now, NMDOH must heed the warning of providers and patients and uphold their statutory duty to administer a program that benefits every patient, not just a select few.”
A statement provided to SFR from DOH Public Information Officer David Morgan says the patient enrollment data cited by Ultra Health “accurately reflects what the [DOH] Medical Cannabis Program has publicly provided in its latest Patients Statistics report. The DOH anticipated a reduction in patients when adult use was legalized and has been publicly transparent with that assessment.” The program, he writes, “exists to assist patients who use cannabis for medicinal purposes. Medicinal use of the product they receive is untaxed because it is used in the patients’ care as medicine and not recreational use.” While the program was the only option prior to legalization, its “primary objective” now “is to support patients who enroll and provide them with tax-free access to cannabis, recognizing it as a form of medicine.”
Andrea Brown, public relations and marketing specialist for the state Regulation and Licensing Department, which oversees the state’s Cannabis Control Division tells SFR in a statement CCD “does not have any data to support the claims that enrolled medical patients have faced any shortage of cannabis products for the medical market or that those patients are turning to the illicit market. Additionally, the CCD is continuing its efforts to combat and eliminate the illicit cannabis market from New Mexico.”
Simply put, Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of state advocacy for the Drug Policy Alliance tells SFR, dropping enrollment in the medical cannabis program was expected because “it’s easier to just purchase on the recreational side than the medical side because you don’t have to reup your enrollment.” With that being said, she adds, “it’s more expensive it’s more expensive and you may not get the same product that you might need. So that is my only concern about seeing the medical side drop is that patients may not be getting the product for their particular condition that they had otherwise received… market forces will decide what products are available.”