New Mexico proposes new cap on medical pot production

New Mexico

FILE – This Sept. 11, 2018, file photo shows a marijuana plant in the coastal mountain range of San Luis Obispo, Calif. California legislators are considering a plan to encourage more banks to do business with its legal marijuana industry. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico proposed new pot production rules Tuesday intended to shore up supplies to its medical marijuana program without flooding the rapidly expanding market.

Under the proposal, the Department of Health would limit medical cannabis production to 1,750 mature plants for each licensed producer. The prior 450-plant limit was struck down this year in response to a lawsuit by the state’s largest seller and the mother of a child who is reliant on cannabis oil to treat a form of epilepsy.

A temporary production cap was set at 2,500 plants in March while new guidelines were drafted. It was unclear whether any cultivators had reached that threshold.

The Health Department said the proposed provisions were designed to balance concerns about adequate supplies against the risk of overproduction that have disrupted other state medical marijuana markets. Officials cited trends in Oregon’s medical cannabis market as it authorized recreational pot.

data analysis by The Associated Press shows medical marijuana programs have lost registered patients in states that have legalized recreational pot, as prices rise for remaining patients. New Mexico established its medical marijuana program in 2007 and still prohibits recreational sales and use.

Under the production proposal, immature seedlings would not count toward the plant-count limit, allowing cultivators to experiment with plant strains. It also would allow producers to apply for a 500-plant production increase beyond the cap starting in June 2021 if demands from patients outstrip supplies. Licensed medical marijuana producers had mixed reactions to the changes.

Erik Briones, owner of Minerva cannabis dispensaries in four cities, said the new cap on plant numbers and allowances for additional seedling starter plants ensures adequate supplies — and also worries it might undermine prices that sustain the industry. “I think the 1,750 plants is certainly going to meet the supply of the slow-building patient count in New Mexico,” he said.

Ultra Health, which successfully challenged the previous production cap, continues to advocate for a higher plant count and more market-based approach to ensuring adequate supplies. “At face value, it looks just as arbitrary and capricious as the first plant count,” said Marissa Novel, chief marketing officer for Ultra Health, which operates 17 dispensaries across New Mexico through a licensed nonprofit affiliate.

Participation in the state’s medical cannabis program has grown rapidly to 73,000 people after chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder were added to a list of qualifying conditions. Last week, the list was expanded to include opioid use disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disorder and several degenerative neurological disorders.

As the program evolves, producers have warned that regulatory constraints on production may be pushing some medical marijuana patients toward the illicit market or recreational dispensaries in neighboring Colorado. “The most important thing is that patients have access to affordable, quality medicine,” said Emily Kaltenbach, state director of the nonpartisan Drug Policy Alliance, in reference to medical cannabis. “We’re pleased to see the Department of Health taking that seriously.”

In developing the proposed rule, producers and patients were surveyed by a polling firm. State regulators also studied data from producers and national industry statistics. About 55% of producers in New Mexico said they were unable to keep pace with patient demands for marijuana and related products.

The newly proposed rules also call for renewal of registration cards every three years rather than each year — a change approved by lawmakers. A public hearing was scheduled for July 12 on the proposed rules.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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