SANTA FE (KRQE) – So many people showed up to give the New Mexico Department of Health an earful about proposed medical marijuana changes, some had to be turned away.
Many people claim the proposal would destroy a program that is helping thousands of New Mexicans.
Monday’s public hearing lasted from 9 – 4 p.m. Much of the fight was about proposed new rules and new fees.
One person after another stood up to tell Department of Health officials why they disagree with proposed changes to New Mexico’s medical marijuana program. “If it was your intent to enhance this program, make it easier for patients to enroll in this program, and stay in this program, I’m sorry but you have failed miserably,” said one man, followed by a roar of cheers from the crowd.
Monday’s public hearing in Santa Fe was packed. Health officials said the demand for medical marijuana has increased, and new rules would allow for more production and growth. However, protestors say the rules come with fees that would actually discourage growth, and hurt patients.
“You need to take responsibility here for the patients that are being hurt by your program,” shouted one man. “I’m sorry for getting upset but frankly that’s why I’m in the program!”
Disabled veterans, attorneys, nurses, and patients from all backgrounds attended to speak. Proposed changes include a first-ever patient fee of $50 a year.
Those licensed to grow their own medical pot would be cut from four plants to two.
There are nearly 11,000 people active medical marijuana patients in New Mexico. Currently, there are 23 licensed nonprofit marijuana producers in the state, but the changes would allow more than that, and would allow them to grow more plants.
However, another proposed change includes adding new fees for producers, which some said would triple their costs.
“You have pushed it with these rules and regulations into the black market,” said one woman.
“Patients are not going to have enough money they’re not going to afford being in the program and so then we’re going to lose them to the black market, back on the streets, again buying medicine that is not tested,” said Joel White, Vice President of the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patient Alliance.
Program Manager Ken Groggel said he’s thankful for the feedback, and wants to assure people that the program is not being threatened. “We plan on the program going forward, continuing to grow, continuing to develop, and continue to provide safe medicine and safe access for all qualified patients in New Mexico,” said Groggel.
Groggel said proposed new changes would not discourage program growth. “We don’t believe it makes anything more difficult, it’s a learning process, we have to wait and get through the rules first to see what we end up with, and then we’ll go ahead and apply those in a way that works for everybody.”
The DOH said the medical marijuana program does not get help from state funds, therefore, money from fees would go toward program costs, adding employees, and inspections, to keep up with the program’s growth.
DOH officials said because of the response, it has extended written public comment on the issue until July 1. They’ll take public comment into consideration before imposing new changes. Officials haven’t said when a final decision will be made on the proposed new rules.