There are some consequences to using medical marijuana in New Mexico. Take life insurance. If you use medical pot you're likely to pay higher premiums.
This is the second of a three-part series on New Mexico’s medical cannabis program. Today, veteran journalist Tom Sharpe examines some of the unforeseen consequences of using medical marijuana, and on Friday he’ll look at how the industry has matured in the state.
BY TOM SHARPE
I am generally pleased with my experience with the state’s medical cannabis program. But there are problems and gray areas.
Take life insurance. If you’re in the program, you’ll likely be charged higher premiums.
Allstate and Farmers Insurance agents tell me that’s because a medical cannabis user is classified as a “tobacco user.” A State Farm agent says his company doesn’t use that term, but if you are using cannabis legally through the state program, you’ll have to disclose why. Neither your doctor nor the state can disclose your qualifying condition.
These three big insurance firms require applicants for life insurance, term or whole life, to answer questions about drug use, legal or otherwise, and to take a blood test.
An agent for an independent insurance agency told me that Prudential and other companies offer life insurance that does not require a blood test or ask about cannabis use, but these are more expensive.
I asked the state Office of Superintendent of Insurance if anyone there was aware of this seemingly unfair quirk in the system or had any comment on it, but never heard back.
Home, auto and health insurance premiums aren’t affected by using medical cannabis. But if “preexisting conditions” again become a factor in health insurance, one’s reason for using medical cannabis could weigh in. Regardless of the pending changes in federal healthcare laws, few private health insurance policies cover medical cannabis.
The only exception is workers’ compensation insurance. The state Court of Appeals has ruled that workers comp must cover the costs of medical cannabis.
The biggest gray area is the divide between state and federal government on medical cannabis. Your New Mexico certification does not protect you from arrest on Indian reservations and pueblos, national parks and other federal property, or traveling to or through any other state or nation. Even if you are flying in-state, you can’t take your stash with you because the federal government regulates the airlines.
Concealed-carry gun permits pose a potential problem. The state application asks, “Are you are an unlawful user of, or addicted to any controlled substances and/or alcohol?” A yes answer would seem to disqualify medical cannabis users from obtaining the permit. But if a medical cannabis users checks no, no one will object.
Although the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives maintains that concealed permits should be denied to medical cannabis users, the New Mexico Department of Public Safety doesn’t consider medical marijuana use a factor in getting a permit.
In Colorado, county sheriffs are authorized to deny concealed-carry permits to medical cannabis users. Efforts to overturn that law by referendum have fallen flat so far.
Another gray area is how to determine when one’s cannabis level makes driving unsafe. Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry tests of urine, blood, saliva or hair can detect cannabis used months earlier, but not necessarily impairment.
Colorado defines driver impairment at nine nano grams of active THC per milliliter of whole blood. New Mexico’s law simply puts it as when it “renders the person incapable of driving.”
Santa Fe defense attorney Dan Cron says none of the methods of determining cannabis intoxication stand up to scrutiny, calling them “ambiguous and inexact science.” He says that although a few New Mexicans might have unwittingly pleaded guilty to driving under the influence from marijuana, he’s never heard of anyone with representation being convicted at trial.
The rules that come with medical cannabis cards say you can use it only in a “private residence.” I don’t find that in the 2007 law, but it does ban cannabis use in any “public place.”
When I visited the New Mexican Dispensary in Santa Fe, I noticed a goosenecked smokers’ receptacle in the graveled plaza between the retail shop and the kitchen. When I asked clerks if customers could smoke cannabis there, they told me they don’t ask what people smoke there. I don’t see any harm in letting people use cannabis in this protected setting.
Advocates of the medical marijuana program, like Patricia Monaghan, an Albuquerque lawyer who uses medical cannabis, say they are proud that New Mexico’s program has kept patients’ needs as a priority. But she would like to see users protected from being fired from their jobs, having their children taken away and other sanctions.
She also wants to see New Mexico strike reciprocity agreements with other states, so that New Mexicans could take their cannabis to other states and vice versa, and to add depression as a qualifying reason. But some of these changes would be unnecessary if cannabis is legalized.
Many expect New Mexico to follow the same path as California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska and the District of Columbia in legalizing cannabis. In 2014, Colorado medical dispensaries simply changed their signage, put medical-grade cannabis in a separate cabinet and began selling to everyone 21 and over.
California dispensaries are expected to do the same as of next Jan. 1. Some Democratic candidates for governor would like to see New Mexico follow suit.
The main obstacle is politics. Republicans, with the notable exception of former Gov. Gary Johnson and other libertarian conservatives, generally oppose full legalization.
Maps delineating the 29 states with medical cannabis programs are similar to maps dividing the country by red/blue, Republican/Democrat or Trump/Clinton support, with a few anomalies. Texas and most of the Deep South, most of the Great Plains, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana have no programs.
Those with medical cannabis programs or about to begin them include all of the Pacific Coast and most of the Northeast, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, Nevada, Montana, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.