New Mexico's Department of Health administrative shortfalls are leaving medical cannabis patients without access to medicine and unprotected from criminal liability for purchase, possession, and cultivation across New Mexico.
According to law, the Department of Health (DOH) is required to process medical cannabis program patient enrollment applications (26-2B-7 C NMSA 1978) in 30 days, but for several months the department has not been able to comply. Current wait time for medical cannabis enrollment processing exceeds 60 days.
Once a patient's medical cannabis program card expires they cannot purchase medical cannabis from licensed producers. It also means that they are criminally liable for possession and cultivation of their medicine. Although DOH is taking measures to enable them to process a larger volume of patients, they are not likely to catch up until sometime this Fall, at the earliest.
"We are very concerned about the patients who are put at risk for criminal penalties, prosecution, and may be forced into the illicit market to maintain their supply of medicine." said Jessica Gelay, a policy coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance. "While we appreciate that there is a plan in place to deal with the problem in time, we are believe that more could be done to address this serious situation, affecting thousands of patients every month, immediately."
The Department of Health Medical Cannabis Advisory Board (MAB) discussed the situation at their recent meeting and suggested the Secretary "provide a "grace period", or other remedy..., so that [patients] can continue to access medical cannabis and continue to be protected from criminal liability for the possession of medical cannabis under the provisions of the Lynn & Erin Compassionate Use Act."
The Board's recommendation was denied reasoning that it could potentially make matters worse for patients. The Secretary of Health's decision states, "[A] 'grace-period' is not contemplated in statute, patients who used or accessed cannabis during that period could be exposed to arrest or prosecution."
More than 24,000 New Mexicans are currently enrolled in the medical cannabis program, which was established in 2007.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation's leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.