State should follow pot producer’s lead

Kudos to Erik Briones for going where New Mexico’s Department of Health still refuses to go. The medical marijuana producer recently opened the doors of his Los Ranchos business, Minerva Canna, to highlight a recent $60,000 expansion, designed to make things more convenient for his clients and more conducive to his bottom line.

Meanwhile, the Health Department continues to keep all information about the individuals and businesses it has licensed to prescribe, produce and sell medical pot behind closed doors. Even though many of those advertise online, tout their state licenses, include their bricks-and-mortar addresses and go so far as to promote weekly specials and punch-cards for frequent buyers.

DOH says its list of 23 licensed providers “is only available to active, qualified patients. Once a patient is enrolled in the program, a list of licensed nonprofit producers is provided with the patient ID card. This information is confidential and should be kept safe for the protection and safety of all concerned.”

Of course, as with many businesses, there are safety risks to growing and selling medical pot. That’s why, like banks and convenience stores, Briones has installed cameras to monitor every corner of his building. And why, as with conventional drug stores, he has added special shutters to protect the windows at night.

It’s much harder to protect the public from seven years of DOH secrecy, which has resulted in medical marijuana shortages, price gouging and poor quality, according to some of the 10,818 patients.

It has allowed individuals with criminal records to apply for dispensary licenses in secret. It has allowed the vast majority of medical marijuana prescriptions to be written for the hardest-to-pinpoint of 19 conditions (PTSD is No. 1; chronic pain No. 2) without question. And it has allowed for a curiously high rate of prescriptions to come from a small number of physicians and from rural counties.

The state’s physicians and 23 providers are licensed by the state of New Mexico, are required to pay state and federal taxes, and are expected to provide relief for some of New Mexico’s most vulnerable and fragile patients. If seven years has shown anything, it’s that they cannot be held accountable behind closed doors.

Briones, who owned Purple Sage nurseries before deciding to focus on one plant strain four years ago, did the state’s medical cannabis program a favor when he stepped up last week to make his business not only more profitable, but more accountable.

The Health Department should come out of hiding and do the same.

— Albuquerque Journal

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