Want to break into the marijuana business? You too can learn how to grow it, cook it, distribute it and, best of all, it’s 100 percent legal.
If Canntechs were to advertise on late-night television, that might be the pitch. As early as next month, the new company plans to offer training courses on New Mexico’s medical cannabis laws and its emerging marijuana industry.
The basic-level class—which includes cultivation, cooking and New Mexico-specific legal issues—will cost $324.75 plus tax, according to the curriculum posted online at canntechs.com.
In late December, the New Mexico Department of Health passed a series of rules that allow nonprofits to apply for licenses to grow and distribute pot to card-carrying medical cannabis patients.
Canntechs is a for-profit company and won’t be handling marijuana directly. Instead, Canntechs will serve as an all-purpose consulting and education firm, which will train the workers to fill jobs in growhouses and dispensaries, help patients register for the state program and help nonprofits craft their license applications.
To help train workers, Canntechs will offer “cannabis technician” certification. Although the certification isn’t recognized by any state, Canntechs senior partner Brett Bratcher says the firm hopes it will eventually become the national standard.
“There are still a lot of smarmy, cheesy, tongue-in-cheek jokes and the old Cheech and Chong stereotypes [about medical cannabis], and that’s really not what this industry or this program is about,” Bratcher tells SFR. “The only way the general public is going to take us seriously is if we take a fairly stringent approach to it.”
Bratcher says his interest in medical cannabis derives from his career in hospice care and from having a close relative diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
A DOH spokesman tells SFR the department is unable to comment on the company.
Canntechs also is in the process of establishing operations in Colorado, Nevada and Rhode Island. In New Mexico, it is advertising jobs for a nurse and a physician, who will help patients with eligible conditions apply for their cannabis cards.
Bratcher says Canntechs’ doctors will not “prescribe” marijuana to patients but, when appropriate, will “recommend” the patient for the program, usually with the consent of the patient’s primary care physician.
“What we’re doing is saying, ‘This person has a chronic condition and, if they want to register with the state to carry a card, I endorse that,’” Bratcher says. “That’s what the physician is doing and that is what we’re teaching them to do.”
Bratcher says the charge for the service could run as high as $160, with a sliding scale for indigent patients.
Since SFR began reporting on the medical marijuana program, several patients suffering from eligible conditions have written to SFR asking where they can find a doctor to prescribe marijuana to them. The DOH has approved 14 eligible conditions for cannabis treatment and hospice patients may also qualify.
“I have been googling since [my doctor] refused to sign my application for the Medical Cannabis program a week ago,” Susan, a 64-year-old glaucoma patient, wrote to SFR via email on July 15. “My glaucoma eye drops irritate my eyes and when I have a ‘social occasion’ I quit the drops for two days…It is not good for the pressure to go up and down, so I think cannabis is worth a try.”
To date, the DOH has rejected 26 patients from the medical cannabis program. There are 418 patients actively enrolled in it, although only 75 are currently licensed to grow marijuana for themselves. Currently, Santa Fe Institute for Natural Medicine is the state’s only licensed nonprofit cannabis producer, but it can only serve a maximum of 85 patients due to the state’s restrictions on numbers of plants.
This means that more than 250 patients must rely on the black market for their medication.
The Department of Health is evaluating 14 other applications, but the process is moving slowly. According to documents obtained through a public records request, a lawyer for one nonprofit applicant (the name was redacted) filed a complaint in April after three months had passed without a response from the DOH.
The attorney, Patricia Monaghan, tells SFR that the DOH has since responded and the nonprofit is “moving forward.”
One major sticking point for potential nonprofit producers is the requirements placed on board membership. Before being approved, a nonprofit must have at least three certified patients serving on its board. Since the DOH will not release the patients’ names, the nonprofits have turned to Craigslist, the cannabis.com message board and newspapers such as the Alibi in Albuquerque.
According to the DOH, no nonprofit applications have been denied. However, at least one nonprofit called it quits due to the cumbersome application process.
Bratcher says that’s where Canntechs can help.
“We want to literally set up the nonprofit organization, help them get the 501c3 status, get the board of directors together,” Bratcher says. “I’d really rather see three top-flight dispensaries doing a good job than 10 half-baked dispensaries—no pun intended—10 slipshod dispensaries out there doing a crummy job.”
Scott O’Rourke, who is putting together an application for Medical Growing Green, a dispensary he hopes to establish in Eddy County, says he would consider using Canntechs.
“If there was something already in place [like that] it would take a lot less time, a lot less money,” O’Rourke tells SFR.
In the meantime, O’Rourke’s lawyer is piecing together elements from applications already filed and modifying them to meet O’Rourke’s plan, which is to deliver product statewide.
SFR has been publishing nonprofit medical marijuana applications online since May and has posted six new documents this week at SFReeper.com. These documents, requested by SFR under public information laws, are heavily redacted by the Department of Health to conceal the names of the nonprofits, their locations and their executives.
DOH cites public policy and personal privacy concerns under rules written for the program as justification for the redacted information. SFR believes these redactions are a violation of the Inspection of Public Records Act and has filed a complaint with the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General.