Governor Denies Access to Medical Marijuana for Vulnerable New Mexicans at Risk of Dying from Opioid Overdoses
Ignoring the Treatment Needs of People who Use Drugs Reinforces Stigma and Shame
Santa Fe – Today, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez vetoed House Bill 527 (HB527), a measure that would have made improvements to the medical cannabis program. The measure was a collaboration between Sen. McSorley (D-Bernalillo) and Rep. Gentry (R-Bernalillo). Sen. McSorley sponsored the initial measure to make changes to the Lynn Pierson and Erin Armstrong Compassionate Use Act (LECUA) this legislative session. Representative Gentry introduced a similar measure that included input from the Office of the Governor. Senator McSorley supported Rep. Gentry’s bill and helped get it through the state Senate. HB 527 passed the Senate (28-9) and the House (45-16). This is the first time that the LECUA has successfully been amended by the legislature since it was signed into law in 2007.
The most significant provision in the legislation would have allowed New Mexicans diagnosed with opioid use disorder by a licensed practitioner to be eligible for the Medical Cannabis Program. Nationally, in 2015, more people died from opioid overdoses than died from HIV/AIDS when that epidemic peaked in the 1990s, and New Mexico suffers from a disproportionate rate of opioid overdoses compared to nearly every other state in the nation.
“In the Governor’s veto message it states that provisions in the bill “may erode” the intent of the New Mexico’s medical cannabis law. Really, it is the Governor who is eroding the intent of the law by denying access to New Mexicans who desperately need it,” said Jessica Gelay, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “New Mexico has a public health emergency with respect to opioid overdoses. Vetoing this bill means even more New Mexicans will die. It really is that simple.”
As stated, in statute, “The purpose of the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act is to allow the beneficial use of medical cannabis in a regulated system for alleviating symptoms caused by debilitating medical conditions and their medical treatments.” All changes proposed in H527 were completely aligned with this purpose.
The veto message also states that “[i]ncluding “opioid use disorder” independently will likely cause a rapid increase in program enrollment, which the program is currently unable to sustain.”
“The Department of Health has control over the number of producers licensed and the amount of medicine that they are allowed to grow,” said Gelay. “There is no reason that New Mexico’s medical cannabis program cannot sustain growth related to adding qualifying conditions. If enrollment in the program increases, the Secretary has several options including increasing the number of plants producers can grow, allowing more licensed producers, or both. Additionally the Dept. of Health just added several additional employees and purchased additional equipment and office space to be able to accommodate program growth.”
More than 33,000 New Mexicans are qualified to participate in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, which is administered by the Department of Health (DOH). Patients are certified by a medical practitioner to have one of 21 serious medical conditions and must register with DOH in order to become a qualified patient.
The Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading proponent of drug policy reform, has released a plan to address increasing rates of opioid use and overdose (now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States). The plan marks a radical departure from the punitive responses that characterize much of U.S. drug policy and instead focuses on scientifically proven harm reduction and public health interventions that can improve treatment outcomes and reduce the negative consequences of opioid misuse, such as transmission of infectious diseases and overdose.