The state of New Mexico will soon start recognizing medical marijuana enrollment cards from other complaint states, allowing patients from those states to access New Mexico’s medical cannabis program.
This comes on the heels of an emergency new decision by the state’s government to reinstate residency requirements for all beneficiaries of the medical cannabis program. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law an amendment to the previous law that allowed non-resident patients to enroll in the medical program.
State lawmakers had been debating the measure for weeks following growing concern over its effects on illegal interstate cannabis transportation and trade. As part of the emergency decision, the state of New Mexico also stopped issuing medical marijuana enrollment cards to patients that live outside the state effective immediately.
In support of the medical cannabis movement in other states, the State Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel enacted the ‘reciprocity rule’ that will allow eligibility of cards from other states. The new rule goes into effect on July 1, 2020.
The Policies of the Bill
The newly amended bill, Senate Bill 139, features a number of specific policies aimed at giving a new definition to New Mexico’s medical cannabis program. Some of the most important features include:
Detailed definition of a qualified patient
Following the amendment, Senate Bill 139 now defines a qualified patient as any certified resident of New Mexico diagnosed with one or more of the medical conditions listed in the Bill. The patient must have written evidence from a doctor proving the existence of their condition, and a registry identification card is given by the New Mexico medical cannabis program.
The formal definition of new requirements for qualified out of state patients
The New Bill recognizes qualified out of state patients as ‘reciprocal participants.’ Only reciprocal participants can access New Mexico’s medical cannabis system. The bill defines a reciprocal participant as a patient that is already enrolled in the medical cannabis program of their home state and has proof of it.
Establishment of an identity card and its role
Senate Bill 139 formally establishes the need for an identification card, called a registry identification card, that will be used to identify participants in the state’s medical cannabis program and allow them access to services.
Definition of the medical conditions recognized by the medical program
The Bill identifies a specific list of conditions that the state allows a patient to seek medical cannabis. The list includes mostly debilitating conditions such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, glaucoma, cancer, seizures, and more.
What previously happened?
In 2019, the existing law was amended to change the definition of a qualifying patient. Following the amendment, any person who presented any of the medical conditions recognized by the state as deserving of medical cannabis could enroll in the state’s medical program.
New Mexico state law recognizes cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorder, HIV/AIDs, and other major debilitation’s as worthy of medical cannabis treatment in the state program.
Most notably, the amendment allowed patients to come from any state around the United States. More than 600 out-of-state patients applied and received identification cards before the State Department of Health decided to stop awarding IDs to out-of-state patients.
Patients could buy medical cannabis within the state and take it back home to another state within hours. Most importantly, people from states that are against medical marijuana could purchase it legally in New Mexico without trouble.
What will happen now?
This new law brings a sudden halt to things in New Mexico. Since it bans awarding identification cards to out of state patients, it means that only New Mexico patients will access the medical program from now on.
It also bars patients based in states that outlaw medical cannabis from purchasing the drug in New Mexico and effectively limits easy interstate cannabis transportation. Only patients resident in the few states that have legalized medical marijuana so far can access New Mexico’s medical cannabis program and purchase cannabis-related products like smell proof bags.
According to Dominick Zurlo, the state’s medical-marijuana program director, the main reason for recognizing out-of-state cards is to enable patients to get access to medical marijuana legally without breaking interstate law.
What caused the sudden amendment of the law?
According to the Las Cruces Sun News, this emergency change was bound to happen at any moment. ‘State health officials say that change [the amendment in 2019] was inadvertent and invited problems with U.S. authorities by potentially diverting marijuana outside a regulated system,’ the paper reported.
By allowing the transfer of cannabis across state borders, the state of New Mexico was unknowingly facilitating crime in the eyes of the law.
The Albuquerque Journal also reports that there was also growing worry among the program’s sponsors of potential consequences of the interstate cannabis trade, such as being sued by non-compliant states, which would allow the federal government to shut down the program.
These concerns and others triggered a vote on the issue in the New Mexico House that passed 44-19, according to the Albuquerque Journal, and was later approved by the Senate.
The winning vote was that the 2019 amendment be reversed to ban out of state patients unless they were already involved in a similar program in their home state. Gov. Lujan Grisham signed the amendment into law on Feb 20.
Pushback on the new bill
It hasn’t been all rosy for the lawmakers as they rolled back the problematic amendment. One of the state’s biggest cannabis retailers, Ultra Health, sued in court to keep the state’s medical cannabis program open.
Ultra Health operates ‘more than 20 medical cannabis dispensaries in the state’ according to the Cannabis Business Times, and has more in the pipeline. The court had ruled in its favor, but the newly amended bill signed by the Governor seals the deal.
New Mexico and medical cannabis use history
New Mexico is one of a select number of states that formally allow medical marijuana currently within its boundaries. State law allows the growth and sale of medical marijuana as long as the players follow state laws.
The state is still making inroads on other aspects of cannabis use, albeit unsuccessfully. A previous attempt to legalize cannabis use for adults in the state, S.B.115, stalled when a Senate committee voted against it. Top industry players had also found it lacking in certain aspects.
The state had previously dealt with two similar bills on cannabis legalization in 2019, which were then rolled into S.B.115. The new bill, had it survived the Senate, would have legalized purchasing up to 2 ounces of cannabis or 16 grams of cannabis extracts, among other specifics.