Will your hunt for medical cannabis in Taos get easier?

Judge opens door on plant count to remedy medical cannabis shortage

By Cody Hooks
chooks@taosnews.com
Posted 2/28/19

Michael Cloutman hates those moments when a patient comes through the door of the cannabis dispensary in Taos and he has to tell them that the medicine they need is …

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Will your hunt for medical cannabis in Taos get easier?

Judge opens door on plant count to remedy medical cannabis shortage

Posted

Michael Cloutman hates those moments when a patient comes through the door of the cannabis dispensary in Taos and he has to tell them that the medicine they need is out of stock.

"It's not a good situation on either side of the counter," said Cloutman, supervisor at New MexiCann Natural Medicine in Taos. "Our supplies are really strapped."

Unfortunately for Cloutman and patients, it's been a consistent scenario due to a mismatch between demand for medical cannabis and the supply that 35 New Mexico producers have been able to grow.

But thanks to a recent court order, a limit on the number of marijuana plants companies like New MexiCann are able to grow will no longer be in effect starting Friday (March 1).

An Albuquerque-based producer, Ultra Health, sued the state in 2016 over the 450-plant limit the Department of Health imposed on all nonprofit growers in the state.

A district judge in Santa Fe ruled in favor of the medical cannabis grower in November, saying the limit "is not based on fact or reliable data and is not rationally elated to [the department's] regulatory authority."

"More importantly, it impedes the ability to assure medical patients have an adequate supply," wrote Judge David K. Thomson, who became a justice on the New Mexico Supreme Court in January.

Thomson gave the state Department of Health 120 days to come up with a "plant count limitation that complies" with the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, which created the medical cannabis program in 2007. The law requires the state to provide an "adequate supply."

While the state asked the court to have until November to come up with new plant count rules, a judge denied that motion Monday (Feb. 25), meaning the current limit will become invalidated as of Friday.

"New Mexico has always been pushed to the limit in supply and demand. Now that it's at 70,000 [patients], even with 35 producers in the state, there's no way we can meet the demand," said Jaylene Kost, executive administrative coordinator for New MexiCann Natural Medicine.

In 2014, the state increased the production limit from 150 to 450 plants. Still, the availability of patient medicine has fluctuated since then.

Southwest Wellness, a Taos-based medical cannabis production facility that also has retail space in Albuquerque, is currently growing at capacity, according to its director Barbara Crawford.

Even though growers are unsure what rules the state may impose after Friday, they're approaching the day with a measure of excitement and validation.

"We will definitely be expanding our production," Crawford said. "[We] can easily go to 1,000 [plants] if the limit is lifted. This change will lower costs and improve access to the 70,000 patients of New Mexico," Crawford said via email.

"We can begin expansion pretty much immediately," said Kost of New MexiCann, adding that her organization could begin "taking cuttings March 2," making sure to comply with whatever administrative rules are in place in the coming weeks.

"This judge has made a good decision," Kost said.

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