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Budding Ruts

As NM’s medical pot program grows, so do its obstacles.

August 18, 2010, 1:00 am
“Hamstrung,” “underfunded,” “very hard to contact” and plagued by “ideological barriers”? Just another day in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program.

This year, the program turned three—the equivalent of a teenager in the world of medical marijuana legislation. If California and Colorado are the wild, popular teens who know the best places to sneak an underage cocktail, then New Mexico is that shy kid who’s good at school and, his parents hope, will eventually run a non-investment bank.

But in keeping with the metaphor, New Mexico’s medical cannabis program remains plagued by growing pains.

To start, with more than 2,000 total patients enrolled as of July 6, and only 11 certified medical marijuana producers (each limited to 95 plants), there remains a constant dearth of reliable medical pot.

Robert Jones, a cancer patient in Las Vegas who’s been licensed in the medical cannabis program since 2007, has almost always been without a steady supply. He’s one of more than 800 patients also licensed to grow but, when he was hospitalized several weeks ago, his plants died.

These days, he finds marijuana where he can.

In July, the Department of Health certified six new producers—but some, such as Medzen Services, have yet to produce a single ounce.

Tom Boutwell, a licensed patient who serves on Medzen’s board, says Medzen is building a production facility.

Growing mature, high-quality plants will take another three to four months plus drying time, according to Randy Mazur, an experienced grower in Carlsbad.

Mazur himself has been trying for 19 months to get a grower’s license, but employees at the DOH, he says, “drag their feet.”

One impact from the lack of producers, according to Bryan Krumm, a certified nurse practitioner who serves on the board of a Cibola County-based producer, GrassRoots Rx, is “patients get put into a lottery and only get their medication once every three months.”

The program’s most veteran producer, however, disagrees with the common wisdom that the program doesn’t have enough producers.

Donna, a representative from the Santa Fe Institute for Natural Medicine (who declined to give her last name), says in a voicemail to SFR that “the problem with the new producers is they really just don’t know how to produce…they’re trying to say it’s someone else’s fault that they don’t know how to do their job.”

SFINM, the program’s first licensed producer, has 700 members, she says, “and we’re able to serve every one of them.”

Even those who maintain that New Mexico’s medical marijuana program’s shortcomings stem from the DOH’s management of it, acknowledge the budget and staffing challenges the department faces. With a team that fluctuates between one and three employees and a mandate to respond to all new patient applications within 30 days, certifying new producers or even responding to patient questions can be slow going.

“My medical marijuana card expired in July,” Boutwell tells SFR. He’s been trying to contact the DOH for weeks—“I’ve sent many emails; I’ve called”—without success. As a result, he doesn’t know if he can use cannabis legally.

What he does know is that his use of it so far has been transformative.

“I was on 14 pills for pain management, costing me a fortune,” Boutwell says. Now, he’s down to four, he’s lost 50 pounds and his blood pressure has dropped back to normal.

“There’s no question that medical marijuana has been super-beneficial,” he says. But now, he adds, “We [need to] get together and discuss streamlining this and getting it to the people who need it.”


08.20.2010 at 04:17 | Reply |

I would like Donna at SFINM to explain how they can supply 700 patients with a 95 plant limit. That seems like some sort of "impossible dream" fantasy world.


08.21.2010 at 02:13 | Reply |

The kind of self-serving remarks from the folks over a SFINM are not helpful as well as not true. Anyone who has been paying attention to the medical marijuana program will know that SFINM was "out of product" most of the time during the first year (2009) when they were the only licensed producer. When there were only 300 patients, SFINM stated in an article in SFR (and in other stories in the NY Times and on local television that they could only serve a maximum of 85 patients.

In March of last year, Santa Fe Institute for Natural Medicine, the only nonprofit approved for production and distribution, estimated it could serve 100 patients; there were already 300. SFINM developed the strategy that they currently use -- a "lottery" system where all the names are put into a hat and only a few patients’ names are drawn to receive medicine. To say that they have no problem serving 700 every month is a ludicrous fabrication. SFINM's lying and being snarky is unnecessary and counterproductive to the serious business of allowing for the beneficial use of medical cannabis as envisioned by the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act.

Here is a television story about the SFINM shortage after they ran out of product in 2009 and couldn’t figure out how to grow enough for even the 540 patients that existed just six months later

Since SFINM refuses to file the required reports with the Department of Health and the Attorney General, it is not possible to tell how much they are selling, and to whom at what price - and how much of what they say and do is just blowing smoke up our butts.