Late last Friday the New Mexico Department of Health released proposed rule changes governing the medical cannabis program. If the new rules are adopted, thousands of patients, many of whom are New Mexico's Military Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain, are worried that their medical cannabis will be taken away by making it harder for them to access their medicine.
In defense of patients' access, the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patient's Alliance, the South East New Mexico Medical Cannabis Alliance, and the Drug Policy Alliance are re-launching the Don't Take Away Our Medicine campaign to make sure the voices of patients are heard loud and clear. The Campaign is demanding that the Department postpone the hearing, go back to the drawing board, and include stakeholders in their process.
Retired Army Sgt. Mike Pell, member of the Don't Take Away My Medicine Campaign, is disillusioned. "Since veterans are forced outside the VA to get a medical provider to refer them to the medical cannabis program it is already a lot of work for vets to maintain their active patient status. Now they want to punish us further by forcing us to pay a fee to the state every year. I was honorably discharged and am permanently disabled. I support my family on a fixed income; these new regulations will hurt me and my family. I grow my own medicine because I can't afford to purchase all the medicine I need from licensed producers, now the department wants to cut in half what I am allowed to grow for myself. The proposed changes are a terrible blow."
"These new regulations would crush the program, if they are enacted" said South East New Mexico Medical Cannabis Alliance co-founder, Robert Pack. "Many rural patients rely on their ability to grow their own medicine with their personal production licenses. The new regulations cut the limit in half permitting only two plants and will force them to pay for annual criminal background checks. In addition, all patients will now have to pay to apply to the program, where before there was no application fee charged. These changes are unacceptable from a health department charged with ensuring access to all NM Medical Cannabis Patients."
In addition to the decrease in the number of plants patients are allowed to grow and the introduction of a patient fee and background checks, advocates and patients are also concerned that rule changes: eliminate the requirement for the Program to conduct their annual assessment of services provided to patients; eliminate a primary caregiver's ability to grow medicine; and, institute an unworkable 24 hour timeframe that would make courier services obsolete for people living in remote areas.
"Transparency and accountability are both hallmarks of good government. How dare this Administration propose rules that shirk their responsibility to ensure patients are protected and make it harder, if not near impossible, for patients to have safe access to safe medicine," said Emily Kaltenbach, State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
The Don't Take Away Our Medicine Campaign was first launched in 2012 when a petition was filed with the State to remove PTSD as a qualifying condition. Subsequently, the Secretary of Health upheld the recommendation by the Medical Cannabis Program's Medical Advisory Board's to keep PTSD as a qualifying condition.
"We will not allow these proposed rules to be railroaded through at the expense of patients in the program," said Joel White, the Vice President of the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patient's Alliance. "Patients deserve, above all, the freedom to choose the safest and most effective treatment for their debilitating conditions."
The right to use medical cannabis was approved in 2007 when the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act was signed into law by then Gov. Bill Richardson. Since 2007 patient participation in the program has grown steadily and today more than 11,000 New Mexicans are actively enrolled and able to access safe medicine, often when nothing else works.