State Limits on Production Will Spark Shortage by 2018
‘This problem needs to be addressed to avoid an imminent public health crisis’ – Duke Rodriguez, founder of Ultra Health
BY PETER ST. CYR
A new medical cannabis market study has a dire warning for medical cannabis patients.
Thousands of program cardholders could be forced to buy their medication from the black market if licensed producers don’t increase their annual harvest yield 600 percent by early 2018.
Kelly O’Donnell, a former New Mexico and Regulation and Licensing Department secretary under Bill Richardson, issued the study on Tuesday. O’Donnell contends a health department regulation that limits producers to 450 plants need to be changed quickly to keep up with increased demand.
Despite an 81 percent increase in the number of patients enrolled in the medical cannabis program between June 2015 and June 2016, Health Secretary-designate Lynn Gallagher has signaled she won’t change the rule because she’s worried about the potential for federal intervention and large producers monopolizing the market, among other reasons.
New Mexico Top Organics–Ultra Health, Inc., along with Nicole Sena, the mother of the state’s youngest cannabis cardholder, have filed a lawsuit over the state’s production limit.
The plaintiffs asked Santa Fe District Judge Judge David K. Thomson to order the public health agency to change its production limitation rules before the shortage leads to a public health crisis. Their attorney, Brian Egolf, said the department’s “artificial constraints” will get worse unless the limit is lifted or eliminated.
State law requires the department to be able to provide a three-month uninterrupted supply of medication.
While dispensaries don’t currently have patients waiting in lines for plants to be dried, cured and trimmed, Ultra Health principal Rodriguez told ABQ Free Press that without more plants he can’t develop specialized products, including medication that Sena provides her 8-month-old daughter, who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy.
Sena has been forced to travel across state lines to Colorado to purchase Haley’s Hope, a cannabinoid oil.
“State programs need rules to operate fairly, and the rules should not be arbitrary. Regulations should be consistent with statute, reflect the reality of patient specific needs, program growth and be supported by a credible assessment of supply and demand,” Rodriguez said.
Since the program’s inception in 2007, the number of patients has grown from six to 27,908 as of July 31. The plant count was set at 95 plants in 2009, and has only been raised twice – to 150 plants in 2010, and to 450 plants in 2015.
“If adequate supply is the question, adequate information is the answer,” Rodriguez said. “Over the course of the program, plenty of data was available to forecast patient needs and demand. This problem needs to be addressed to avoid an imminent public health crisis.”
Peter St. Cyr has covered medical cannabis in New Mexico since the state legalized it in 2007. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.