Judge rules non-residents can get medical cannabis cards

by Andy Lyman

Out of state residents who qualify as a medical cannabis patient are now eligible to get a New Mexico medical cannabis card.

A state district judge ruled Thursday that the New Mexico Department of Health must issue medical cannabis cards to qualified patients, regardless of where they live full-time. Thursday’s hearing was the latest in a back-and-forth between a medical cannabis producer and state officials—including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham—over whether a recent change in law opened the state’s program to non-residents.

Though the judge ruled that DOH would have to start issuing cards to non-residents, the governor’s office said they aren’t giving up.

Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Lujan Grisham, said the governor’s office plans to appeal the decision, but not before he took a shot at one of the petitioners in the case, Duke Rodriguez, who is an Arizona resident and also the president and CEO of the prominent medical cannabis producer Ultra Health.

“We remain of the opinion that New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program should not be bulldozed by an out-of-state litigant operating with his own financial interests at heart rather than those of the state’s medical program or of the many New Mexicans who depend upon it,” Stelnicki said in a statement. “Today’s decision contradicts both the intent of the legislative sponsor and the interpretation of the New Mexico Department of Health, and the state plans to appeal the decision.”

Rodriguez declined to comment on what he called a “personal attack,” but that he’s ultimately happy with the decision

“There was a lot of good testimonies from both sides today, but I think the judge did a superb job of refining the issues down to one core issue—that if you were to remove the word cannabis from the discussion this becomes an issue of treating it like any other medical care,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez is one of the three petitioners, all of whom reside primarily in other states, who asked the court to compel DOH to issue cards to non-residents. DOH did not officially deny the applications from the three petitioners, but the department placed their applications on hold until they could show a valid New Mexico identification card address.

David Morgan, a spokesman for DOH, said the department hasn’t determined whether they will start approving applications that come from out of state residents.

“We are considering how to proceed given the judge’s ruling and the fact that an appeal is forthcoming,” Morgan said.

If DOH does start issuing cards to non-residents, the next question is whether the state can adequately supply patients with enough cannabis.

Plant counts for producers has long been an issue, specifically involving Rodriguez and DOH.

For much of the Medical Cannabis Program’s existence, producers were only allowed to have 450 plants at any given time. Last fall Rodriguez sued the state, arguing that 450 plants was not enough. The judge in that case did not weigh-in on how much was enough, but did rule that 450 was an arbitrary number and ordered the department to come up with a number backed by data. In March, the department issued an emergency rule change which temporarily increased plant limits to 2,500. Then, last week the department issued a permanent plant limit of 1,750.

Now Rodriguez said he thinks the state needs to take into account the possible influx of patients from other states.

“We have consistently told the state they need to be cognizant of the likelihood that out of state individuals could qualify for cards in New Mexico,” Rodriguez said.