NEW MEXICO--Today marks the one-year anniversary of the start date of New Mexico's landmark medical cannabis law, the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act. The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) has certified 160 patients with identification cards, affording them the right to protection under state law from prosecution for possessing small amounts of medical cannabis.
"The New Mexico Department of Health has done a wonderful job of issuing ID cards to patients who meet the program criteria," said Reena Szczepanski, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, "They've been very careful to ensure that all of the applications are verified and correct, and they've been a real resource for patients and physicians with questions."
The program has further to go, however. According to the state law, the Department of Health should have issued rules and regulations by October 1, 2007 to govern some aspects of the program, including the medical advisory board, the identification card system, and the production and distribution of medical cannabis. On April 15 the regulations governing the medical advisory board were published. The medical advisory board has not yet met, though the law requires the board to meet at least twice per year to consider petitions for new medical conditions. The remaining two sets of regulations have not been finalized. NMDOH convened two public hearings concerning the regulations on October 1, 2007 and January 14, 2008.
Patients and advocates anxiously await these final two sets of regulations, partly to improve patient access to medical cannabis. Because these regulations are not finalized, no caregivers have been certified to assist patients in maintaining a supply of medicine, and the state licensed production and distribution system has not been implemented to ensure a safe and secure supply for patients. New Mexico's law is the first in the nation to require the state to create a production and distribution system.
"We recognize that the production and distribution system is very complex and should be carefully designed. That system will allow New Mexico to do what no other state has done - ensure a safe and secure supply of medical cannabis for patients," said Szczepanski, "But it's time to publish the identification card regulations and start certifying caregivers, who can help their patients until the distribution system is up and running. It's been nearly six months since the last public hearing on these regulations."
Applications for identification cards for both patients and their primary caregivers are available at the Department of Health's website, http://www.health.state.nm.us/marijuana.html
Following a seven-year fight to pass legislation, New Mexico's landmark medical cannabis law passed in the 2007 legislative session. During the legislative debate on the issue, advocates had predicted that the program would grow over five years to 250-500 patients. New Mexico was the twelfth state to endorse the use of medical cannabis and only the fourth state legislature to enact such a measure.
The law protects qualified patients suffering from certain debilitating medical conditions, HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, epilepsy, spinal cord injury with intractable spasticity, or admittance into hospice care, to use medical cannabis for relief of their symptoms. For questions regarding qualification for the program or the application process, please contact Melissa Milam with the Department of Health at (505) 827-2321.