SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A state district court judge on Monday stood by a decision that allows access to New Mexico’s medical marijuana program by people who live outside the state, over the objections of state health regulators.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said through a spokeswoman that the state would appeal the final decision from Judge Bryan Biedscheid to a higher court, while seeking a court stay to avoid issuing more medical cannabis credentials to nonresidents.
State health officials say that lawmakers unintentionally dropped a residency requirement from the state medical marijuana statute, but Biedscheid said the amended law now clearly allows nonresidents to participate in the cannabis program.
“I look to the language of that statute as the first and foremost expression of legislative intent,” he said.
Based on a prior ruling by the judge, the state issued medical marijuana cards to a Texan and two residents of Arizona who sued for access but turned away all other applicants seeking enrollment cards.
Medical Cannabis Program Manager Kenny Vigil declined to say after the judge’s decision whether the state would begin issuing medical marijuana enrollment cards to other nonresidents with qualifying medical conditions.
Medical cannabis entrepreneur Duke Rodriguez of Ultra Health — a resident of Arizona who helped file the lawsuit — said that New Mexico has an immediate obligation to begin enrolling qualified nonresidents as cannabis patients.
He said Monday’s rulings mark progress toward a more uniform national system for access to medical marijuana that transcends state boundaries.
The state Health Department estimates that current enrollment of about 75,000 could more than double if nonresidents are allowed access and argues that might jeopardize access to adequate marijuana supplies for medical patients. Recreational marijuana possession and sales are prohibited in New Mexico.
Texas limits the psychoactive ingredient THC in its medical marijuana. Arizona has a medical marijuana program without those THC restrictions, but its dispensaries are sparse in many areas near the New Mexico state line.
Vigil’s attorney Tom Bird said the program director felt an obligation to challenge the judge’s initial decision because he worked with the Legislature and knows that reforms were not intended to provide marijuana access to nonresidents.
Biedscheid declined a motion aimed at holding Vigil in contempt of court for not issuing medical marijuana cards to out-of-state residents.
Attorney Brian Egolf, representing the three petitioners including Rodriguez, said Vigil has an obligation to issue medical marijuana cards without regard to residency, just as county clerks must issue marriage licenses irrespective of gender under state law.
Egolf also serves as the Democratic speaker of the House that approved reforms to the medical marijuana program.