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New Mexico prepares to overhaul medical marijuana market

August 9, 2019
This April 6, 2018, file photo shows the leaves of a marijuana plant inside a cultivation greenhouse in Bernalillo, N.M. A hearing officer has endorsed key provisions of a plan designed to shore up cannabis supplies to New Mexico's medical marijuana program without flooding the expanding market, according to recommendations released on Friday. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)
This April 6, 2018, file photo shows the leaves of a marijuana plant inside a cultivation greenhouse in Bernalillo, N.M. A hearing officer has endorsed key provisions of a plan designed to shore up cannabis supplies to New Mexico's medical marijuana program without flooding the expanding market, according to recommendations released on Friday. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A hearing officer has endorsed key provisions of a plan designed to shore up cannabis supplies to New Mexico’s medical marijuana program without flooding the expanding market, according to recommendations released on Friday.

State Health Department Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel now has the final say on whether to limit medical cannabis cultivation to 1,750 mature plants per producer. In recommendations released Friday, that production cap was endorsed by an official assigned to monitor public hearings in July.

Dozens of medical cannabis producers in the state are divided on whether the proposed plant limits will ensure adequate supplies to patients.

Suppliers including Ultra Health, the state’s largest medical cannabis distributor, favor a much higher per-producer cap of 5,000 mature plants and unlimited seedlings.

“The evidence to qualify that possibility does not support the massive increase to a plant count limit of 5,000,” hearing officer Craig Erickson wrote.

He sided with recommendations from the Department of Health, which said the 1,750-plant limit is expected to significantly exceed demand for the foreseeable future.

More than 76,000 patients are enrolled in the state’s medical cannabis program to reduce harm and suffering for a long list of ailments and conditions including cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and HIV.

As the program evolves, producers have warned that regulatory constraints on production may be pushing medical marijuana patients toward the illicit market or recreational dispensaries in neighboring Colorado.

The newly proposed rules also would allow medical marijuana patients to renew their enrollment every three years, instead of annually — an outcome of legislation signed this year.

Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is encouraging legislators to come forward with proposals next year to authorize recreational marijuana sales in the state.

A bipartisan bill to legalize and tax recreational cannabis sales at state-run stores was approved by the state House this year. It stalled in the Senate without a vote.

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