ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A state district judge cleared the way Tuesday for hundreds of patients to be re-authorized to participate in New Mexico’s medical marijuana program.
The ruling stemmed from a challenge of a mandate issued in September and a subsequent emergency rule adopted by the state health department just weeks later that placed additional requirements on some patients with medical marijuana cards from other states.
Ultra Health, the state's largest cannabis company, asked the court to step in. It argued that the agency overstepped the intention of the state Legislature and created more hurdles for patients seeking to gain reciprocal admission into the New Mexico program.
Judge Matthew Wilson said the agency's justification for adopting the emergency rule in early October was inadequate and therefore unenforceable. He wrote that neither statutes nor existing rules required that a patient's government issued identification and medical cannabis card be issued by the same jurisdiction where the person lives.
Health department spokesman David Morgan said the agency is complying with the ruling and that all 323 people affected by the decision will once again be able to buy from licensed cannabis providers in the state.
Tiffany Wittkofsky, a patient advocate, said the ruling is crucial for some of the people she works with, especially cancer patients who don't have time to wait for additional approvals.
“It's important to patients who were already part of the program and got it taken away and patients who are in need of access. This was their only hope,” she said.
Patient enrollment has surged in New Mexico’s medical marijuana program for health ailments such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, with a 27% jump in participation since September 2019. Active patients now number more than 98,500, and there are about 1,700 reciprocal participants.
Industry experts have predicted that the program will support more than 105,000 patients and reciprocal participants by the end of the year.
Ultra Health has said that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a medical cannabis shortage in New Mexico and that supplies and purchase limits have kept prices high, in effect limiting the program's growth.
The company has been pushing to lift what it considers arbitrary limits on cultivation. Ultra Health CEO Duke Rodriguez also has pointed to more cultivation as a path to developing the infrastructure that would be needed if the state were to legalize marijuana for recreational uses.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and fellow Democratic lawmakers have said legalization could help diversify New Mexico’s economy and generate tens of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue. The issue likely will be brought up again during the next legislative session in January.