New Mexico backtracks on cannabis cards for nonresidents

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico has moved to phase out medical cannabis cards for nonresidents starting at mid-year, under a bill approved by the Legislature on Monday and supported by the governor.

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More than 600 people from Texas, Arizona and beyond have enrolled as patients in New Mexico's medical marijuana program since September based on a change in state statute signed into law last year by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

State health officials backtracked and said the residency requirement was dropped unintentionally from that legislation. They urged legislators this year to reinstate the requirement, arguing that opening up the program to states without legal marijuana might prompt federal intervention and tempt out-of-state patients to illegally transport marijuana across state lines.

House lawmakers voted 44-19 on Monday to restore the residency requirement, over the objections of the state's largest medical marijuana dispenser, Ultra Health. At the same time, the state recently adopted reciprocity rules to recognizes medical cannabis cards from other states at New Mexico dispensaries.

Ultra Health CEO Duke Rodriguez challenged that notion of looming federal intervention before the legislative panel, noting that nonresident patients follow the terms of the New Mexico's program as they seek relief from late-stage cancer and other qualifying medical conditions for cannabis prescriptions.

“There is no threat of federal intervention,” he told a House committee on health policy. “There is no boogie man.”

Ultra Health prevailed in court last year to compel the state to issue cannabis cards to nonresidents. That was the latest in a series of legal clashes between the Health Department and a company with more than 20 dispensaries statewide that has pushed to increase production limits in the name of ensuring sufficient supplies to patients.

Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf, who represents Ultra Health as a private attorney, was absent from Monday's floor debate and vote after recusing himself. He has represented Ultra Health in litigation and tax matters for about five years — including the recent lawsuit on residency requirement that will rendered moot.

New Mexico Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel said enrolled nonresident medical cannabis patients would be allowed to keep their cards for three years until they expire without the possibility of renewal.

The four U.S. states that border New Mexico all operate medical marijuana programs, but Texas only allows marijuana with low levels of the psychoactive ingredient THC. Colorado allows recreational marijuana sales and use.