Cannabis policy will be a getting a lot of discussion in the state of New Mexico during the current legislative session. Now with seven different bills filed in the state’s House of Representatives and three additional bills in the Senate Chamber that could affect cannabis policy. New Mexico has taken the first steps needed towards legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis and hemp. Senate Bill 8, Medical Marijuana Changes, is another key piece of legislation, filed by Senator Cisco McSorley, that has advocates, patients and producers hopeful for expansion of the program.
Cisco McSorley is a member of the New Mexico State Senate, representing district 16, Bernalillo county. He was first elected to the chamber in 1996. McSorley served in the New Mexico State House of Representatives from 1985 to 1997. McSorley earned his B.A. from the University of New Mexico in 1974 and his J.D. from the University of New Mexico, School of Law, in 1979. His professional experience includes working as a Teacher in Quito, Ecuador, from 1974 to 1976, and as a lawyer since 1979. The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, 2007, the state’s medical cannabis law, passed under Governor Bill Richardson and was lead in the state legislature by Senator Cisco McSorley.
Medical Marijuana Changes Proposed
The Medical Marijuana Changes bill would nearly double the amount of cannabis a patient can possess, changing limits from the current eight ounces every 90 days to five ounces every 30 days. Producers in the state’s medical program would see their plant limits increased as well, more than doubling from the current 450 plant limit to a 1,000 plant limit. This legislation is still evolving with patient’s advocating for more changes to it for strengthen the medical cannabis program further. If SB 8 becomes law, patients who suffer from chronic conditions would only have to renew their ID cards every three years in the medical cannabis program. This is another area of this measure patients in the state would like to see be applied to the over 20 different qualifying health conditions in the program. Finally, the bill prevents the Department of Health from imposing THC concentration cap. “The department shall not limit the amount of THC concentration in a cannabis-derived product that a qualified patient or a primary caregiver possesses,” the bill states.
McSorley told NM Political Report he wants to add opioid addiction to the list of medical conditions that qualify patients to buy medical cannabis. The New Mexico Department of Health is also considering adding this as a qualifying condition. He also said he wants to allow all veterans to use cannabis medicinally if they wish to enter the program.
How To Open The Program Up For More Participants Statewide?
As used in New Mexico’s Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, Section 3 (Definitions), Part B of the medical cannabis law reads as follows:
“debilitating medical condition” means: (1) cancer; (2) glaucoma; (3) multiple sclerosis; (4) damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord, with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity; (5) epilepsy; (6) positive status for human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome; (7) admitted into hospice care in accordance with rules promulgated by the department; or (8) any other medical condition, medical treatment or disease as approved by the department;”
New material legislators could add that truly allows the beneficial use of medical cannabis;
WhereAs (8) [could state the following] ” any other chronic or persistent medical symptom that either substantially limits a person’s ability to conduct one or more of major life activities as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or if not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the person’s safety, physical, or mental health.”
The addition of that language in Part B (8) of the law, would open up the medical cannabis program allowing for more participants and expand safe access to medical cannabis. Major life activities as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.
Revisions to licensing requirements for the plant count for patients and producers that would remove the non-psychoactive cannabis or hemp CBD strains and not counting them against patient, caregiver or producer allowable plant count. Cannabidiol, CBD, is a cannabis compound that has significant medical benefits, but does not make people have the euphoric feeling of being “stoned” and can actually counteract that psychoactivity aspect of THC. The fact that CBD-rich cannabis is non-psychoactive or less psychoactive than THC-dominant strains makes it a great option for patients looking for relief without disconcerting feelings of lethargy or dysphoria.
The current plant count set at 450 plants allowed by each medical cannabis producers clearly cannot meet the demands of over 35,000 patients in the program. The proposed plant count increase to 1000 plants in Senate Bill 8 could run into this as well, by the much needed proposed increase to adequate supply limits to 5 ounces per 30 days in the same bill. New Mexico’s medical cannabis program saw a 75% increase in participants over the last year and these proposed increases would only work if every producer in the state was able to grow 1000 plants. In addition to the time factor for growers to expand operations to do so. In late 2015, the medical cannabis expanded issuing licenses to new producers, now well over a year and in 2017 – not all these new producers are operating yet at 450 plants. Yet the state’s program still grows, adding more patients every day.
Removing CBD strains from cannabis plants counts in New Mexico and other state programs for patients, caregivers and medical cannabis producers allowable plant count just makes sense. A patent was already awarded to part of the federal government, the U.S. Health and Human Services in 2003 (US6630507) that also covers the use of CBD as a treatment for various neurodegenerative and inflammatory disorders.
Since cannabis contains medicinal compounds recognized and endorsed by an agency of the U.S. government- Why is it that cannabis remains on the Federal Schedule One list of drugs?
Removing CBD plant strains from the state’s program plant counts would allow for the proposed 5 ounces monthly in adequate supply for patients. This would also allow for patients with a personal production license to empower themselves and their own grows with more CBD cannabis plants. The addition of patient run Cooperatives/Collectives could also be established and be able to support programs like Grow For Vets. For the producer growing medical cannabis, this would allow for 1000 THC cannabis plants while still being able to provide enough CBD cannabis plants – removing that decision of growing what may $ell more compared to what meets the medical needs of ALL the patients.
Lawmakers in New Mexico can also increase access to medical cannabis in rural areas of the state by directing in legislation for dispensaries to be opened in rural areas of the state’s program.
This map shows the current producers in the state and the neglected rural areas needing safer access to medical cannabis:
Recognition of nonresident medical cards is one overlooked area by New Mexico’s lawmakers that could also provide some of the financial benefits that state desire with legalization. And the increase in these kind of laws make it easier for patients to travel and be tourists knowing they can safely access cannabis. This also helps reduce the hard choice some patients face in considering to travel with cannabis or risk not having medicine at all. Six states currently allow for recognition of nonresident medical cards. The states with reciprocity are: Arizona, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Rhode Island. Other states that border New Mexico are looking into this for their respective state programs too and it would benefit New Mexico to do so first.
As New Mexico works to define a model for cannabis legalization that protects and improves the state’s medical cannabis program and puts patients first as well, lawmakers have a lot of history to contend with. New Mexico’s medical cannabis history started in 1978 (After public hearings the legislature enacted H.B. 329, the nation’s first law recognizing the medical value of cannabis). In an Albuquerque Journal poll conducted in October 2016, 61 percent of likely voters said they would support a measure to legalize recreational cannabis for adults age 21 and older.
It’s really important for all people within the cannabis community to know they are the power; the government, legislators and policy makers are lead to us and We have the power to change the laws and government – people in it, policy being written, and overturning rules & regulations that disrupt safe access to our medicine. Not one state’s medical cannabis law is perfect, they are working pieces of democracy and this is where WE can establish patient lead policy in New Mexico and other states. We have the science, the research, the knowledge – the information the policy makers need to have and we need to get it in front of legislators.
Any resident seeking assistance in qualifying for the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program can find that thru the LECUA Patients Coalition of New Mexico. The LECUA Patients Coalition of New Mexico, as a grassroots organization, is one of the leaders in New Mexico’s medical cannabis advocacy.