How Does Recreational Cannabis Legalization Impact the Future of Medical Cannabis?
by Chane Leigh
A New Mexico judge has instructed the state’s Department of Health (DOH) and the Regulation and Licensing Department (RLD) to halt the enforcement of stringent medical cannabis purchase limits. The previously imposed limits were included in an older version of the state’s cannabis law.
Based on the judge’s demand, New Mexico’s medical cannabis purchase limits should be set in accordance with a March-approved law—titled the “Cannabis Regulation Act”—that legalized recreational cannabis for adults aged 21 and above from June 29 onwards. The law allows medical and adult-use consumers can buy a maximum of two ounces at any given time once retail sales commence in April.
However, the state’s DOH maintained that the previous policy limiting medical cannabis patients to purchases of just eight ounces of the plant within a 90-day period took precedence over the rules put forth in the Cannabis Regulation Act. Dispensaries were expected to use a tracking system to record patients’ purchases before restricting their supply once the limit was reached.
The conflicting rules were making things difficult for all of the state industry’s stakeholders, so Second Judicial District Judge Benjamin Chavez ordered the state’s entities to fix the disparity—using one patient’s testimonial as support for the change.
It was on Aug. 20 that the change to patient purchase limits was triggered. A writ issued by Chavez led to the rule revision, which was adopted after medical cannabis patient Jason Barker filed a petition in July.
Barker, a resident of Bernalillo County, contested against the old limits which he says were illegal and prevented him from acquiring a sufficient amount of cannabis to relieve the symptoms of his medical condition.
“My client is certainly encouraged and appreciative of the District Court’s order, which recognizes neither the Department of Health or Regulation and Licensing Department can take rights away from medical cannabis patients that they have under state law,” said Barker’s attorney, Jacob Candelaria, who also serves as a senator for New Mexico.
According to Barker’s lawsuit, a handful of employers, the state DOH, and the RLD were named as defendants. The accusation claimed that the transfer of medical cannabis regulatory duties was still pending by both state agencies.
“The Cannabis Control Division (CCD) is reviewing the writ and does not comment on pending litigation. CCD is committed to ensuring that medical cannabis patients can get the medicine they need in accordance with the law,” reads an excerpt from an email written by a CCD spokeswoman.
The litigation, which remains unsettled, was not commented on by a spokesman for the New Mexico DOH. Based on details of the writ, state agencies may opt in for a court appearance if they don’t obey the judge’s order.
August also saw the beginning of the application process for cannabis cultivators in New Mexico. Within the first few hours of the RLD opening its floodgates for applicants, almost 400 companies swooped in to compete for a sought-after license.
An RLD official revealed that 226 of the 344 of the applications that came into existence were for microbusiness licenses. Specifically, these types of cannabis cultivation licenses in New Mexico are offered for growers who want to yield 200 plants or less.
RLD Superintendent Linda Trujillo noted how the RLD is devoted to launching a program “in ways that support businesses, consumers, and communities.”
“The CCD is committed to making the licensing process as easy as possible while upholding the law and ensuring the integrity of New Mexico’s cannabis industry,” explained Trujillo. “We look forward to working with licensees to stand up an industry we can all be proud of.”
At the current time, New Mexico’s cannabis licensing application process is only being made available for cultivators. However, couriers, cannabis testers, manufacturers, and retailers will also be able to apply by Jan. 1, 2022, at which point the CCD aims to have drafted the necessary rules and regulations.
The legal framework will outline the process by which manufacturers can produce adult-use cannabis. So far, the division has revealed that plants will be capped at 10,000 for licensed growers. Moreover, requirements will be put in place to prevent medical cannabis shortages.
Despite the fact that New Mexico’s CCD is striving to reduce the risks of a medical cannabis shortage amid the rise of a legal adult-use market, dominant producers are concerned about a prospective supply crisis. Speculation surfaced after the RLD and the CCD announced that they will stop giving their blessing to new cannabis facilities until additional regulations are established in late 2021.
The CCD was forbidden from accepting new cultivation applications on or after June 29, 2021. Because of this, the division confirmed that it would not be processing applications until regulations are finalized for related license types. Furthermore, many producers are worried that New Mexico’s cannabis shortage crisis could be exacerbated if the state suspends the expansion of production facilities.
President and CEO of Ultra Health, Duke Rodriguez, recently divulged to reporters that New Mexico could face a shortage just days after adult-use sales begin on April 1, 2022. Based on the state’s newly-resolved rules, cannabis producers must allocate at least 25% of their supply for registered patients.
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