New Mexico Expands Medical Marijuana Program with Addition of Six Conditions

New Mexico’s medical marijuana program is opening its doors to more patients, thanks to a policy change revising the state’s list of qualifying conditions. On Thursday, New Mexico Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel signed off on the addition of six new qualifying conditions. But the one expected to draw the most new patients into New Mexico’s program is opioid dependency.

With the move, New Mexico joins a number of other states that have updated their medical marijuana programs to address the ongoing opioid epidemic. Health Secretary Kunkel also added a handful of other conditions that fewer states consider qualifying, including autism, Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative neurological disorders.

New Mexico Is the Latest State Turning to Cannabis to Curb Opioids

The United States medical community is desperately searching for alternatives to prescription opioids, or at least something that can reduce the number of opioid medications doctors prescribe. Meanwhile, prescription opioid abuse and illicit use have become a national health crisis. In 2017, the average national rate of opioid-involved overdose deaths was 14.6 per 100,000 persons. That same year in New Mexico, the rate was 16.7 deaths per 100,000. According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, those numbers have not significantly changed over the last several years.

But new research continues to suggest that cannabis can be a viable alternative to prescription painkillers. Other studies show how cannabis can help also ween people off of opioid dependencies. And in many places where medical cannabis is legal and accessible, opioid prescription rates have declined, especially among younger patients.

And in that research, first-year Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Gisham sees a possible answer to New Mexico’s battle with opioid use and addiction. As part of her campaign platform, Gov. Grisham called for expanding the state’s medical marijuana program to include those struggling with opioid use disorders. Gov. Grisham is a former state health secretary. And her campaign pledge to open up medical cannabis access was seen as a rebuke to former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, which had rejected appeals for medical marijuana expansion.

Austism, Alzheimer’s Added to New Mexico’s List of Qualifying Conditions

In addition to opioid use disorder, New Mexico Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel approved five other conditions. She approved autism spectrum disorder, Alzheimer’s disease and three other severe degenerative neurological disorders: Friedreich’s Ataxia, Lewy Body Disease and Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Patients suffering from these conditions won’t have to wait, either. Health Secretary Kunkel’s changes are effective immediately.

“We need to explore and pursue every available means of responding to the health and wellness needs of our neighbors here in New Mexico,” Gov. Grisham said of the announcement. “Compassion must guide our decision-making. Today marks an important and long-overdue step forward after too many years of the status quo.”

The total six new qualifying conditions bring New Mexico’s total up to 28. Most of the state’s 73,000 medical marijuana patients are enrolled for chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Adding these conditions to the Medical Cannabis Program provides medical providers new tools for relieving symptoms that may otherwise be difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to relieve through conventional means,” said Secretary Kunkel.

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Arizona Governor Has One More Day to Sign New Medical Marijuana Bill

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona has just one more day to sign a bill that would require lab testing of medical marijuana products and reduce the cost to patients who access the state’s medicinal cannabis program. The measure, Senate Bill 1494, would require the testing of cannabis products for pesticides, mold, and fungus by November 1, 2020, and mandates that the state Department of Health Services implement standards for the certification of cannabis analytical testing laboratories.

SB 1494 was passed unanimously by both houses of Arizona’s legislature on May 27, in the House of Representatives by a vote of 60 to 0 and in the state Senate by a margin of 28 to 0.

Republican Rep. Nancy Barto of Phoenix told her colleagues in the House before the vote that the government should ensure the quality and safety of medical marijuana products sold in the state.

“We had some serious testimony on it just pointing out the need to make sure the quality of what is being prescribed is there and not being contaminated and hurting those that are consuming this product,” Barto said.

Bill Reduces Patient Fees

Before the bill was approved by the legislature, Democratic Rep. Randy Freise of Tucson added an amendment to the measure that increases to two years the amount of time that medical marijuana identification cards issued by the state are valid. The identification cards, which are required for patients and cost $150, are currently good for only one year.

“A lot of work went into this with a lot of stakeholders,” Friese told his fellow representatives when he introduced the amendment.

Last year, a bill that would have reduced the annual fee for identification cards from $150 to $75 was rejected by Democrats because it did not go far enough, according to Republican Rep. Kevin Payne of Peoria.

“This year we said let’s double the amount of time the card is good for, that’s just as good,” said Payne.

Ensuring Cannabis is Safe

Payne added that Arizona‘s cannabis industry should prioritize the safety of medical marijuana for the state’s patients.

“Marijuana wants to be treated like medicine, it ought to be acting like medicine,” he said. “I want them to have testing. Even aspirin has a label on it.”

SB 1494 is supported by the Arizona Public Health Association and the Arizona Cannabis Laboratory Association. The Arizona Department of Health Services, the Arizona Dispensaries Association, and two large cannabis producers, Copperstate Farms and Harvest Health and Recreation, have not taken a position on the measure.

Demitri Downing, the founder of the Marijuana Industry Trade Association, characterized SB 1494 as a “compromise bill that doesn’t contain everything that everyone wanted, but that’s what good legislation does.”

Ducey has until Saturday to sign or veto SB 1494. If he does nothing, the bill will still go into effect without his endorsement.

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