Progress, at Last! An Update on New Mexico’s Cannabis Laws.

0
162
New Mexico's Youngest Medical Cannabis patient

Written by: Hannah Taylor and Jonathan Smith

Amylea Nunez was only a newborn in 2016 when diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening form of epilepsy. After working through medical trials here in the state, only able to blunt the severe and frequent nature of Amylea’s seizures, her family had to take matters into their own hands before it was too late. When faced with a potentially brief, painful and terrifying life for Amylea, her mother Nicole began testing treatments in Colorado where high-CBD and THC medications were already legal, and helping people.

After trying multiple treatments unavailable in New Mexico, Nicole settled on an oil-based medicine named ‘Haleighs Hope’ that actually worked to alleviate and prevent the seizures of her infant daughter. Since starting the thrice-daily regiment Amylea has had a few seizures yes, but nowhere near as many as she had beforehand.

It seems success stories abound around this ‘marijuana’ medicine, mirroring the shift in perspective everywhere towards natural, minimally processed foods and medicine. Heavily processed and laboratory created pharmaceuticals do not seem to keep up with marijuana’s wild claims as a ‘cure for cancer’ and other ailments. How is this possible? Despite all the progress States and advocates have made recently, the federal criminalization of marijuana as a Schedule I Drug still hurts America’s people every day.

While many are familiar with the plant being smoked as a drug, when asked most medical patients do not choose the smoking method for treatment. Rather, concentrated cannabis oil drops are diluted in water as the preferred method – a process not so different from swallowing a pill. The testimonies of those like Amylea living with conditions like PTSD, HIV/AIDS, anorexia, and cancer, have worked to change the stigma against medical marijuana, and our state government is treating patients with increasing dignity each year. This does not mean however that the roughly 35,000 qualified patients in New Mexico getaccess to their necessary medicine.

Not all of the qualified patients in New Mexico participate actively in the program for various reasons. While New Mexico laws allow for 21 qualifying medical conditions to be treated by Cannabis, marijuana advocates have identified more than 50 conditions where the medicinal merits of the plant are clear. The sheer variety of possible ailments and applications of cannabis are complicated, because of its diverse composition compared to pharmaceutically isolated treatments. Dozens of U.S. and foreign health organizations stand with marijuana and cannabis as a matter of patient’s rights. The American Cancer Society and the American Medical Association have called to begin scientific and clinical research trials, so that more physicians will be available to offer help for patients interested in the growing number of marijuana success stories out there.

What is so different from the components of marijuana than those in an every-day acetaminophen or ibuprofen? The complications stem from genetic variances within cannabis and the evolving multitude of marijuana strains. Inside natural cannabis are both THC and CBD molecules. THC is considered psychoactive because it is a look-alike neurotransmitter for CB1 receptors in the brain that, once activated, induces a “blissful” mental state; CBD provides pain relief without activating those same psychoactive CB1 receptors, and thereby stays off Schedule I Drug list.

There are may facets of marijuana that require more research, and the world beyond medical and recreational use, in commercial industry, makes regulating the plant even more difficult. New Mexico’s 2017 round of legislation included 28 bills that contained marijuana related text. While most of them stalled out in committee hearings, including one legalization bill (HB 89) championed by House Representative Bill McCamley, five marijuana-related bills did ‘pass’ the State House and Senate, clearing all committees just as the 60 day session ended.

A brief summary of the passed bills are included below:

HB 527: PUBLIC PEACE, HEALTH, SAFETY & WELFARE MEDICAL MARIJUANA CHANGES – PASSED – Status: SIGNED BY GOVERNOR

SB 6: INDUSTRIAL HEMP RESEARCH RULES – PASSED – Status: ‘CHAPTERED – LAW WITHOUT SIGNITURE’

HB 144: INDUSTRIAL HEMP RESEARCH RULES – PASSED – Status: ‘CHAPTERED – LAW WITHOUT SIGNATURE’

HB 154: INDUSTRIAL HEMP RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT – ‘SUBSITUTED’ for HB144

HB 280: INDUSTRIAL HEMP RESEARCH RULES – ‘SUBSITUTED’ for HB144

For more information, search www.nmlegis.gov online.

HB 527, The ‘Public Peace, Health, Safety, & Welfare Medical Marijuana Changes Act,’ perhaps the most honestly named bill in human history, amended New Mexico’s Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, improving the foundation of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program. Senator John Smith’s HB 527 unprecedentedly provides that any New Mexican legally diagnosed with opioid use disorders are eligible for the Medical Cannabis Program. This is fantastic news, the very first case of it in the United States, and the only marijuana bill our current governor Susanna Martinez was willing to put her signature on.

No other medical marijuana program in the country specifically lists ‘opioid use disorder’ as a qualifying condition, so 2017 is a historic year. With New Mexicans suffering from uncommonly high opioid addiction rates, Governor Martinez actually signing HB 527 is a welcome signal to physicians and a commitment to legislations benefits.

Clearly marijuana is gaining the common ground, as HB 527 passed the Senate 28 to 9 and the House 45 to 16, and facing the opioid crisis might be the state’s most urgent issue. Opiods can cause lethal overdoses – and have proven to increase the risk of automobile accidents. To compare, no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose, so clearly marijuana will save the lives of New Mexicans. Before the legislation passed, this is what Jessica Gelay, the New Mexico Policy Coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, had to say about HB 527.

“Governor Martinez has the opportunity to save lives by signing HB 527 into law. Marijuana is a safe and effective medicine for problematic substance use, and we need to recognize it as such, not doing so would be negligent. Research has shown that marijuana can lower opioid cravings, side effects, and withdrawal symptoms and enhances the analgesic effects of opioids.”

Four of the bills, HB 144, HB 154, HB 280, and SB 6, all outlined parameters for the research and commercial development of hemp. With HB 144 and SB 6 amended to ‘substitute’ for HB 154 and 280, New Mexico has won a tremendous opportunity for its economic future by opening the doors to agricultural and industrial hemp operations, regulation, funding, and commercial exemption for cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. HB 144 and HB 6 are technically ‘chaptered,’ meaning they have not been signed by Governor Martinez. The bills are Law, but Martinez could announce her explicit veto anytime. Without the governor’s signature, the legality of industrial’s hemp will likely be resolved in one of New Mexico’s judicial courts. Expedient or not, the passing of HB 144 and HB 6 has enabled actual policy to be tested in a real way. There is some ambiguity here, as Governor Martinez power to veto commercial hemp makes the future tenuous at best.

New Mexico’s climate is ideal for producing Hemp cash crops, and our state needs the jobs. Cannabis for instance only needs half the amount of water compared to traditional crops such as corn. Over 20 other states now allow their farmers to commercially grow hemp and are benefitting from the plant, in some cases even without offering their citizens a medical marijuana program. New Mexico is in a race against time and our state is now competing for access to the commercial hemp market. Our representatives and senators know this is an opportunity New Mexicans desire, but if HB 144 and SB 6 were to falter so would confidence in New Mexico’s reliability and image.

Colorado is an example to follow. With three years of legalized commercial, recreational and medical cannabis, Colorado has been collecting taxes and fees along with data tied to legalization, most of which is generating positive headlines. According to public record, the recreational and medical marijuana industry in Colorado generated $52.5 million dollars in taxes in its first year, $85 million it’s second, and $127 million in its most recent year 2016-17. Some of that revenue is from New Mexico’s own citizenry like Amylea’s parents, forced to use Colorado’s more enlightened medical system.

New Mexico’s fiscal year ended in chaos with a reported $1 billion in misallocated funds left unspent even while Governor Martinez claims she will shut down the government if continued talks to tighten the budget through cutbacks fail. In a state that consistently fails to institute an Ethics Committee, that seems like a huge problem when New Mexico’s towns and programs around the state suffer without promised funding. By NOT signing HB 144 and SB 6, Governor Martinez has left a challenge to the economic growth of the state unresolved.

Will New Mexico pioneer the road less traveled? While New Mexico’s people and their representatives are in favor of safe, educated growth and research, the state still faces ambiguity around this issue. Thanks to technology and practices available in Colorado, Amylea Nunez is still alive, and her parents are more hopeful than ever.