Revisiting HB 527
Cannabis news analysis
Medical marijuana services in the state of New Mexico—governed by the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act of 2007 and regulated by the New Mexico Department of Health—in case you're unfamiliar with the roots of this flowery issue—continue to expand. According to the latest research, more than 44,000 New Mexicans participate in the program, of which 41 percent qualified with a PTSD diagnosis, while 28 percent received a card based on a diagnosis of severe chronic pain.
Interestingly, after researching clinical indications for medical cannabis, it becomes apparent that most patients are using the substance to relieve anxiety and pain, whether directly caused by the most frequently approved conditions (PTSD and Severe Chronic Pain) or indirectly because diseases like peripheral neuropathy, auto-immune mediated arthritis and Crohn's disease happen to have very painful symptoms. Sometimes medical marijuana is indicated as an appetite and mood stimulant (as in the case of cancer and anorexia, two other qualifying conditions) but clinicians and patients are not using medical marijuana to slow tumor growth, change the habits of white blood cells or heal damaged nerve endings.
In line with this overarching constant where medical marijuana provides palliative relief (improving the quality of life) for physically debilitating conditions and whose other main therapeutic value may be in restoring psychological balance in those who suffer from anxiety and depression, New Mexico legislators this year passed legislation to expand coverage of the Compassionate Use Act. The passage of the bill through the Legislature marked the first time that the 10-year-old medical marijuana act had been amended.
The only problem is that the governor vetoed the measure, setting the stage for continued suffering among some of our state's most in-need patients. The veto also guaranteed continued legislative battles that may not be resolved during next year's Round House gathering in January 2018 but will most likely wait for resolution during the session that follows the 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
HB 527 would have achieved multiple purposes. Among them: the legislation would have allowed the addition of opioid dependency—with qualified clinical treatment for the affliction—as a qualifying condition for a medical marijuana card. An urgent practical, public health matter, the veto inflamed community activists, including Jessica Gelay, the policy manger for New Mexico think tank Drug Policy Alliance, who wrote in an Alliance press release, “New Mexico has a public health emergency with respect to opioid overdoses. Vetoing this bill means even more New Mexicans will die. It really is that simple.”
Complicating the issue of providing adequate health care to those who need such in the state of New Mexico, some authorities have questioned the process by which aspects of the program—including who’s eligible, how much producers can grow—are managed. According to sources in the press, “Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher has the power to make changes to the program by approving the medical cannabis board’s recommendations that she add qualifying conditions...” If this is indeed the case, then advocates must go beyond attaching themselves to legislative solutions and ensure that a progressive administration with effective management at the cabinet level is in place to process the growth and change inherent in the program’s efficacy.
In addition to expanding the reach of our state's medical cannabis law and providing solid definitions for key terms and processes regulating medical marijuana in Nuevo Mexico, HB 527 sought to de-stigmatize its use as well. The final section of the bill detailed efforts to remove qualification for the medical marijuana program as a reason to allow family services department interventions aimed at “removal.” Think about that: Until this bill becomes law—at least two years—having a N.M. Medical Marijuana Card in combination with children is a de facto invitation to have a heaping helping of government oversight in your little life.
Throughout the tenure of the Martinez administration, state legislators have fought long and hard to ensure that important progressive legislation passed into law by the Richardson administration is updated and evolved. Despite friction from an often noncompliant Republican administration, these duties have been bipartisan as the crafting of HB 527 shows.
Chief among advocates for the maintenance and expansion of medical marijuana laws in this state are the gentlemen—from opposite sides of the aisle—responsible for HB 527. Senator Cisco McSorley (D-Bernalillo), a longtime advocate of marijuana legalization and one of the original supporters of the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, sponsored the initial measure and then collaborated with state representative Nate Gentry (R-Bernalillo) to present a bill that was worthy of passage by solid margins in both houses but still rejected by la Tejana.
Providing adequate health care for New Mexicans, by the standard the governor's veto evokes, continues to remain stalled when it should be forging a path toward a more inclusive and effective future—precisely one of the goals of now dormant legislation that literally awaits a democratic future.