The state Department of Health is planning to address a shortage in the medical marijuana supply. It plans to increase the number of producers from the current 23 to as many as 35, as well as boost the number of plants each can grow, adding 300 seedlings to the 150 plants now allowed.
That growth on the supply side may well be necessary, because there has certainly been growth on the demand side: There are 10,621 patients enrolled in the program, up more than 1,500 from early last year.
A recent DOH-commissioned survey had patients saying they were being turned away by providers with empty shelves and forced to buy the drug illegally from street dealers, which shouldn’t happen in a government-sanctioned program.
But the secrecy in which DOH has enveloped this program from its inception seven years ago continues to raise serious questions as to whether the current supply is really going to those intended under the 2007 Compassionate Use Act — New Mexicans suffering with specific, diagnosed, chronic and terminal illnesses.
DOH has yet to address why the vast majority of medical marijuana prescriptions are written for hard-to-pinpoint conditions (PTSD is No. 1; chronic pain No. 2). Or the ongoing price gouging (medical pot runs $265 an ounce; street-grade is just $60). Or where the lion’s share of prescriptions originate (providers in Sierra and Mora counties write a disproportionately large number).
Clearly DOH understands accountability: Last week Health Secretary Retta Ward added two medical conditions to the list of 17 eligible, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, but rejected traumatic brain injury because of “the dearth of evidence regarding long-term effects of cannabis usage for this condition.”
That same due diligence is needed across the rest of the program’s policies.
New Mexico has legalized medical pot and made it a government program, so there must be enough supply to meet the demand of patients. But basing an expansion decision on producers who say they don’t have enough weed doesn’t address the apparent abuse.
Rather than allowing DOH to simply add to a program that has been seriously lacking in accountability, Gov. Susana Martinez needs to turn off the department’s black light. It’s past time this program, its producers and its policies were in the sunlight.
— Albuquerque Journal