Medical Marijuana in New Mexico
Medical Marijuana Federal Arrests Halted
By the time several paragraphs of this most recent hub about New Mexico’s Medical Marijuana program had been written, the latest update hit the news, adding to the information I'd been gathering.
At this time there are 14 states that allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes. Each state has very different guidelines but this latest news has a dramatic and widespread impact on many thousands of patients approved and legal in all the states. Under the new policy announced today (October 19, 2009) Medical Marijuana patients and providers approved for the program at the state level will not be sought out for arrest federally. A memo outlining the new policy will be distributed to the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as to federal prosecutors in the 14 states. Previously, under the Bush administration, federal laws against marijuana could override the legal use of pot in state Medical Marijuana programs so there was always the threat that a federal agent could arrest a state-approved patient or provider. This new policy is a huge step for the Medical Marijuana programs in our country.
Legalizing Marijuana and Providers in New Mexico
In the state of New Mexico, the journey to legalize marijuana for severely ill patients has been a long process. By July of 2007, the "Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act," was signed into law. The Act is named after two women: Lynn Pierson, a young cancer patient who, at age 26 back in 1978, advocated the medical value of marijuana before the New Mexico legislature and Erin Armstrong, a medical marijuana advocate who suffers from advanced thyroid cancer.
With the new law official, New Mexico became the 12th state to legalize marijuana for medical use. Governor Bill Richardson had been a courageous, outspoken supporter of the law being passed despite the controversy it may have presented while running for president. The state Department of Health was supposed to have rules by October 1, 2007, that would outline the parameters and regulations for patients and providers to qualify. It has taken until January of this year (2009) for the rules to be drawn up for use and production with a less than workable system after all the efforts.
The process of providers being state approved has been frustrating and disturbingly slow to many since there have been over 540 patients state approved at this time and only one provider. Each provider is only allowed to grow 95 cannabis plants which leaves most of the New Mexico approved patients in the difficult position of not being able to procure their medicine without finding illegal suppliers. In this case, the patient is protected from arrest but the supplier is not.
One of the problems is the stringency of the approval application process for growers. As a result of the strict requirements, only 22 applications have been filed statewide. Several applicants have claimed their submitted paperwork contained 100 pages of information. New Mexico is the first and only state with a Medical Marijuana program that requires the providers who apply to be a 501C3 non-profit organization, complete with a board that includes a physician, nurse or other health care provider and at least three medical marijuana patients. Each person connected through the board is subject to a criminal background check. It has been difficult for applicants to find patients to serve on their board since the list of patients is confidential information that cannot be disclosed.
Medical Marijuana Patient Qualifications in New Mexico
Legal protection to procure marijuana for medical reasons is provided to patients with the following diseases:
- Severe chronic pain (added a few months ago)
- Painful peripheral neuropathy
- Intractable nausea/vomiting
- Severe anorexia/cachexia
- Hepatitis C infection currently receiving antiviral treatment
- Crohn's disease
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with intractable spasticity
- Hospice patients
It is also necessary that a patient receive the recommendation of their medical practitioner stating that they have an eligible condition which is not responsive to normal medical treatments and is debilitating.
Patients who have already been state approved can apply to grow their own pot. Patients can legally possess six ounces of pot and/or 16 plants (four mature, 12 seedlings), If a physician recommends more, these numbers can be adjusted.
Some of the Unresolved Issues with Medical Marijuana in New Mexico
A gentleman I know and have had the pleasure of talking with is both an
approved patient qualifying as a result of his cancer as well as approved to
grow his own plants. At this time he is able to do this during summer outdoors
but is concerned as his disease progresses and for the winter months that he
might not be able to provide for himself. He feels marijuana has been a great help, that it has prolonged his life and increased his quality of life, helping him with severe nausea during chemotherapy and relieving him of general pain and lack of appetite.
Another friend who is a qualified patient with Multiple Sclerosis has a very small apartment where, even though she is approved to grow her own, she does not have the light or conditions to grow medical grade marijuana in her house. She has no outdoor yard and since she is losing her eyesight and use of her hands, it is impractical for her to provide her own. She is greatly relaxed and calmed of spasms with the use of marijuana.
This is where the New Mexico program falls short of providing for needful patients. There are many low-income and disabled patients in New Mexico who simply can't afford to pay street prices for the one medicine that helps them.
I've had an on-going correspondence with a man on the non-profit board of directors and a member of the family that is next in line for approval as a grower by the DOH. This is a family of several generations of herbalists who have been "struggling to get our ducks in a row with the state" since early summer and as of six weeks ago, felt they were days away from approval. Seven weeks have passed with no approval yet.
According to Bernie Ellis, MA, MPH, an epidemiologist and Medical Marijuana activist with many years in substance abuse-related research and administration says there are approximately 46,000 residents eligible to participate in the New Mexico Medical Marijuana program. Every time a new disease gets added to the list of ailments, there will be more people applying. He sees a need for many larger state-approved facilities for growing to accommodate so many needful patients.
When the DOH regulations were finally announced, Ellis was disappointed and felt one of the issues would be the high costs to the patients per ounce in order to cover all the production expenses in a facility for only 95 plants compared to an acre which could supply many more patients with a less expensive ounce. The number 95 that the DOH designated seems to arise from an interest in not attracting the attention of the federal government, who formerly would become involved at 99 plants. Now that the federal relationship to the state approved Medical Marijuana programs has changed, this could be a less relevant number. Ellis has said, “I am a proponent of the New Mexico approach as outlined in their legislation, but an opponent of the current regulations,” a statement with which I agree.
To read more of Bernie Ellis’s very insightful viewpoints find link below.
If a patient is in a medical crisis and needs medical marijuana for reactions to chemotherapy, for example, there is no alternative at this time other than to procure it from a seller on the street. New Mexico has a ways to go to meet the needs of the many patients from poor communities who need a fair price for a high-grade medicine that can help them.
A link to NORML with individual state-by-state information Active State Medical Marijuana Programs http://norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=3391
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