Now that New Mexico has a Medical Cannabis Program, how is marijuana's black market faring?
Now That New Mexico Has A Medical Cannabis Program, How Is Marijuana’s Black Market Faring?
BY TOM O’CONNELL
The big secret about medical marijuana is that those with a serious illness who don’t have the means to get their cannabis card are still subject to arrest if they seek relief on the black market.
And the fact that the government can tell Americans which plants they can and cannot grow and consume is absurd to self-medicating black-market buyers such as Larry, who says medical pot is only “for the rich.” New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program isn’t much comfort to the 56-year-old Marine vet on a fixed income.
Pot does a much better job of easing the pain in his ruined knees than opiates, says Larry, not his real name. During his six-and-a-half-year enlistment, which began right after the Vietnam War ended, an injury shattered the meniscus in his knees.
Years later, Veterans Administration doctors put him on Oxycodone for his bad knees and bad back, and he became addicted.
“I can’t take the stuff anymore,” he says. “I have to take marijuana for relief. I can still get out and function, and I’m not all drugged up.”
But Larry doesn’t enjoy the legal protections or the enormous variety of marijuana products available to those New Mexicans who can afford to get the patient card and shop at the legal dispensaries.
A tale of two weed dealers
Dust picks up in Albuquerque’s seasonal gusts and turns into dirt devils along the unpaved road that horseshoes through Clyde’s trailer court, from which he sells black-market marijuana.
Clients pop in and out of the trailer as Clyde (also not his real name) holds forth on his long history with the plant and the police. Clyde’s a 57-year-old Army vet who’s been smoking weed for 40 years. He sells it in small quantities, mostly “dime bags,” which is enough to pay the rent and keep himself fed.
One young woman who comes in to Clyde’s trailer is a cute brunette, mid-to-late 30s, in a Slipknot T-shirt. There’s polite small talk, then a deal for $10 worth of an illegal plant.
One young woman who comes in to Clyde’s trailer is a cute brunette, mid-to-late 30s, in a Slipknot T-shirt. There’s polite small talk, then a deal for $10 worth of an illegal plant. She’s just been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. She describes the biopsy to Clyde, how they had to go back in for more tissue three times because they kept screwing up.
Like any decent budtender, Clyde lends a compassionate, supportive ear to his customer as he weighs out an extra-fat gram.
Jay Steinberg is a much different kind of weed dealer: the legal kind. He’d like to see marijuana one day be completely free for Americans to grow and use, but for the time being, he’s content to work within the confines of the system.
“It’s not a perfect circle yet,” Steinberg says. “We have four dispensaries. Patients are demanding more, and we can’t facilitate it. By the state keeping plant count low, these dispensaries are becoming high-THC dispensaries. I don’t see why this nontoxic vegetable has to be restricted. I don’t get what they are trying to protect.”
Steinberg owns the hippie store Birdland in the heart of Albuquerque’s Nob Hill, one of the state’s busiest retail centers. He’s seen his retail sales steadily fall since the 2008 crash. Black-light Bob Marley posters just weren’t paying the bills like they used to, so he started looking for a partnership with a pot group. Steinberg’s now under contract with a major medical marijuana outfit called Ultra Health, which had its grand opening on March 25.
Steinberg, like Clyde, has been using marijuana for more than four decades. But unlike Clyde, he’s protected by the law.
Clyde’s customer was in pain, and she wanted some weed to treat it. Luckily, she lives in a state with medical marijuana. So why buy on the black market?
To get on the medical cannabis program, you have to get documentation from your doctor proving that you have an approved diagnosis. Then you have to pay around $150 to a medical marijuana doctor.
To get on the medical cannabis program, you have to get documentation from your doctor proving that you have an approved diagnosis. Then, you have to pay around $150 to a medical marijuana doctor, who will fill out your paperwork and hand you an envelope to mail to Santa Fe. Then, you wait to see if your card arrives. It could take weeks. It might not come at all. There’s no way of knowing until you get either the card or a letter saying you were turned down.
Even if you do get your card, you have to go through the same routine to renew it each year. Dispensaries are hard to get to on the bus because, unlike Birdland/Ultra Health, they’re typically tucked away in industrial and office parks.
The current New Mexico state limit of 450 plants per producer limits availability, which drives up prices. Colorado is less stringent, and its medical prices are as much as $5 less per gram. Medical marijuana menus of Colorado dispensaries show average prices of $9 to $12 per gram, while New Mexico prices are generally around $10 to $14.
The young cancer patient in Clyde’s trailer has concluded she can’t afford to be on New Mexico’s medical cannabis program, but she can afford the occasional dime bag “on the street.”
Tom O’Connell is an Albuquerque freelance writer.
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