The ruling notes that the Health Department hasn’t revisited the plant limit since 2014
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — In a big win for medical marijuana producers in New Mexico, a district judge has ruled that a state-imposed limit on the number of plants they can grow as part of their licensed operations is arbitrary and not based on reliable data.
Judge David Thomson, in a ruling made public Friday, invalidated the 450-plant limit that the state Department of Health imposes on producers. The judge also set a four-month deadline for the agency to study the issue and establish a new plant limit that complies with legislative mandates that guide New Mexico’s medical marijuana program.
The ruling stems from a lawsuit that alleged the agency wasn’t fulfilling its obligations to ensure an adequate supply of medical marijuana.
There have long been concerns about shortages as the population of licensed patients has grown exponentially. As of the end of September, there were nearly 59,000 active patients.
“In essence, DOH is using its regulatory authority in a manner and with an end toward impeding the purpose of the act,” the judge wrote. ?”Further, its regulatory mandate of 450 plants is not based on fact or reliable data and is not rationally related to its regulatory authority. More importantly, it impedes the ability to assure medical patients have an adequate supply.”
The department said Friday it was reviewing the ruling and considering its next steps.
“Our focus will always be on ensuring that patients have safe access to medicine,” agency spokesman Paul Rhien wrote in an email.
Duke Rodriguez, head of the state’s largest producer, Ultra Health, said the Legislature’s intent was to allow for the beneficial use of medical marijuana to all qualified patients in New Mexico.
“Going forward, we can now have a program fully committed to the public health benefits of cannabis availability and affordability — better health over the politics of the past,” he said in a statement.
The lawsuit was brought by Ultra Health and Nicole Sena, who uses cannabis oil and medical marijuana products to treat her daughter’s rare form of epilepsy. Sena has said the treatments call for a significant amount of cannabis material and that she has a hard time finding a licensed producer who can provide enough.
According to the complaint, the state’s limit on the number of plants per producer has resulted in barriers to supply and ultimately patient access.
The ruling notes that the Health Department has not revisited the plant limit since 2014 despite the increase in patients. The department has argued that based on a 2013 survey producers had room to grow by improving the yield of their plants.
The judge found that the market for medical marijuana has changed since then and the department has not accounted for those changes.
As for patients, they must meet at least one of 21 conditions to qualify for a medical marijuana card. Of the patients enrolled as of the end of September, slightly more than half of them listed post-traumatic stress disorder as a condition. Other conditions include severe chronic pain and cancer.