Earlier this month, New Mexico State Senate voted to pass a historic cannabis decriminalization bill that allows for residents to carry up to an ounce of marijuana and removes the risk of jail time for up to 8 ounces. The state has become the one of the forerunners for marijuana legislation reform, catching the eyes of other states looking to follow in their footsteps.
While the state may seem to be moving forward on the decriminalization front, they are unfortunately taking two steps back when it comes to their medical marijuana program and the regulations affect growers and patients.
In fact, these new regulations are so debilitating to the states medical marijuana program that 19 of the 23 licensed, nonprofit growers that operate in New Mexico are suing the state Department of Health and Secretary Retta Ward, claiming that the new rules should be struck down and marked as void.
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the growers claim that the new regulations, put in place in February after a year of deliberations and two public opinion hearings, are “arbitrary and capricious, are not evidence-based and are unenforceable because they exceed the departments authority.”
The 19 different growers throughout the state are claiming that the new regulations are in violation of the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, which Gov. Bill Richardson signed into law in 2007. According to the growers, the new rules commit violations including requiring patients to provide a release of their medical information, allowing for the cancellation of a patient’s registration with the medical marijuana program for reasons outside those contained in statue, and the creation of a limit on the maximum amount of marijuana that a person can possess in a 90-day period.
While the growers are nonprofit and are not doing it for the money, these new rules not only limit the patients’ access to the substance, but also take away from the business that the growers are attempting to build up.
In response to the new rules, the group of disgruntled growers have hired Jason Marks, an Albuquerque attorney who recently filed two documents: a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief and a petition for writ of certiorari and declaratory relief. These documents, if accepted into a case, would allow the growers to sue the State Department of Health and Secretary Ward for attempting to pass regulations that are outside the jurisdiction of their department. If Marks comes out the victor in this case, the new rulings would be struck down and the medical marijuana regulatory system would return to its original (and still functional) order.
Despite the seemingly unnecessary changes to the New Mexican medical marijuana program, the State is actually moving forward in the realm of industrial hemp. Just recently Senate Bill 94 (also known as the Industrial Farming Act) won a 33-8 vote and passed through the state’s Senate, moving on to be voted on in the House of Representatives.
The bill won in the House with a vote of 10-1 and has been sent to Governor Susana Martinez, who can choose whether or not the bill will be signed into law. If it receives the governor’s approval, New Mexico will join Kentucky, Colorado and Hawaii, who have all legalized the production of industrial hemp as a state cash crop.
After passing through the Senate vote, Emily Kaltenbach, the state director for the New Mexican Drug Policy Alliance, said that: “Today’s vote shows that New Mexicans across the political spectrum are ready for hemp to be an option for the agricultural sector and to improve our economy. Our elected officials are finally recognizing that federal drug laws are outdated and have created unnecessary barriers for our farmers.”
According to the Congressional Resource Service, the United States is the only developed nation (out of over thirty different developed countries) that doesn’t grow industrial-grade hemp on a large scale, keeping it from being considered an economic crop for the nation. However, the U.S. has an estimated market of over $500 million per year from industrial hemp alone, making the nation the largest importer of hemp and hemp products. The crops are normally imported from China or Canada, who are considered to be the world’s two largest exporters of industrial hemp and hemp products.
If the United States were to take matters into their own hands and start growing the plant on a large scale, they could save all the money from importing the product and even join China and Canada in exporting the product to countries that need it.
Overall, New Mexico has a large amount of legislative change happening right now. Despite the oscillating opinions that the state legislatures are expressing on the many different issues that are arising, it seems like the market is working to bring itself to the best possible place for the state and its residents.
What do you think of the politics of cannabis in New Mexico? Share your thoughts in the comments.