Read the full story at the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Edit: Some readers have gotten in touch with me about this and disagree with my stance on this issue, and they may be right. I personally don’t know very much about the system in New Mexico, and don’t claim to. Rather I thought that these changes pointed to something we need to watch out for here in Hawaii.
Recently proposed changes to the rules governing the medical marijuana program have some dispensary owners and operators in an uproar. The proposed changes will increase some fees paid by both dispensary owners and patients, and will increase the number of plants that producers are able to grow while decreasing the number of plants that patients are allowed to grow for their own use.
At the outset, let me say that it is unreasonable under any circumstance to be decreasing the number of plants that patients are allowed to grow. Patients in New Mexico as elsewhere are increasingly taking up delivery systems such as juicing that require much more raw material, but can be more effective in treating certain ailments. This is clearly a misguided policy.
Other than this, I am not personally convinced that the New Mexico Department of Health is operating in bad faith. I suspect that they are right that in the longer term, these changes will help to make the program more sustainable and medicine more available, or at least there is reasonable evidence that it will. Effectively doubling the production cap will drive down prices of medicine counteracting the increase in fees, and this shift will allow for more economies of scale in the production of medicine, while also making the program more sustainable by increasing its revenue.
Still, this dispute highlights a very important aspect of medical marijuana programs. Dispensary operators are potentially very vulnerable to even minute changes in the rules governing the program. One of the requirements in the newly proposed law is mandatory testing by the only lab in New Mexico that is approved to do this kind of analysis. This could cause a large expense on some dispensaries, while little expense to other dispensaries that are already doing this kind of analysis. The rules also impose an upper limit on the percentage of THC allowable in concentrates at 60%. This is not unreasonable in my opinion, and is the kind of safety regulation we see in alcohol laws, but if you had invested thousands of dollars in concentrates that were 63% THC, this change could bankrupt you.
Dispensaries can certainly be very profitable, or even in a state such as New Mexico where they are non-profit entities, can be a source of income for many people, but they do require a great deal of investment in a business that entails collosal risk. As we develop our proposed legislation for dispensary systems, we must try to craft a system where the landscape for operators of dispensaries is as predictable as possible. This is especially important because during the process of developing this system, these stakeholders, future operators of dispensaries, will not be included in the task force, because they don’t yet exist.