Is Marijuana policy changing for good in New Mexico?

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Are New Mexicans finally seeing marijuana policy in a new way?

Two big stories today showcase the recognition of medical marijuana as a real treatment option AND public outrage over a misguided Forest Service anti-drug operation at Taos Ski Valley.

Read them both, then join us on Facebook and tell us what you think.  Has New Mexico turned a corner on marijuana policy?

On the front page of the Albuquerque Journal this morning appeared two articles that appear to point to a sharp difference in the way New Mexicans view marijuana policy and both are good for patients and law enforcement.

First:  the US Forest Service is retreating from actions that some are calling a misguided use of resources targeting visitors at one of New Mexico’s most popular ski resorts.   Forest Service law enforcement officers conducted a “saturation patrol” at the Taos Ski Valley last week taking away just a handful of small quantity amounts of marijuana and a lot of grief from residents and attendees at a cancer prevention fundraising event and children’s event happening that day.

Taos Ski Valley Drug Sweep Ruffles Feathers

In short, the agency is catching some serious grief for an operation in which four agents with a drug dog issued several citations and confiscated “possession amounts” of marijuana in a “saturation patrol” that included the ski valley parking area and nearby roads.

And the Forest Service is doing some serious backpedaling.

We’ve had “many, many complaints,” said Kathy DeLucas, a Carson National Forest spokeswoman…

Robin Poague of the Albuquerque office and special agent in charge for Forest Service’s Southwestern Region said he’s “not sure who actually made the decision” to conduct the drug sweep. That individual may be away on a training assignment, he said.

“I don’t agree with the tone that was set by the officers there,” said Poague…

“I am definitely conducting an inquiry as to what happened up there,” he added. He said he’s aware of the number of complaints to the Taos office “and that’s led to my concern.”

“Our goal is that people have a safe experience on Forest Service land,” said Poague.

Ski valley marketing director and vice-president Chris Stagg said he didn’t witness the officers in action but employees and guests complained to him and other ski valley officials.

“They didn’t show respect to people,” said Stagg. “Clearly, I thought the officers, their demeanor was rude and out of line.”…

Apparently, “there was a cancer fundraising event and youth event” going on at the ski valley when the officers and their dog made their appearance on a Saturday, she said.

“A father who had his 11-year-old daughter with him there said ‘Skiing is supposed to be fun,’ but he was subjected to this,” DeLucas added. She said she’s forwarding complaints to Poague…

Former Gov. Johnson, who lives at Taos Ski Valley, said he was outraged…

Five pot tickets

The Forest Service officers issued five violation notices for marijuana possession, one for illegal possession of prescription drugs and others for traffic or vehicle equipment violations. There also were verbal warnings for things like cracked windshields, said Poague. No “traffickable amounts” of pot were found, he said.

Stagg said the Forest Service raid had stirred up bad feelings similar to those stoked by a State Police drug task force roadblock at the ski valley in the 1990s. Skiers and visitors on their way to the valley on NM 150 were subjected to drug dog searches.

Read the full story by Andy Stiny of the ABQ Journal here.

On the same page, a decision by the state Department of Health could pave the way to license more medical marijuana producers in the state.  Patients have complained for years that though New Mexico permits medical marijuana use, the state was not licensing enough producers to meet medical demand and this essentially handicapped the program.

Agency: More pot providers needed

Health Department wants to ease rules

By Dan Boyd Journal Capitol Bureau

SANTA FE — The state agency that runs New Mexico’s medical marijuana program wants to bring more licensed producers on board and relax restrictions on how many pot plants can be grown after a survey that found the program was struggling to supply a growing number of certified patients.

If approved, the Department of Health’s proposals would likely take effect later this year. They would be the first rule changes to the medical marijuana program since 2010.

“The goal of these adjustments is to ensure an adequate supply of medical cannabis is available for qualified patients in New Mexico,” Department of Health spokesman Kenny Vigil said Friday.

Currently, the state’s 23 licensed medical marijuana producers are limited to growing no more than 150 marijuana plants each.

That would increase under Health Department’s proposed rule change, as producers each would be able to grow up to 150 mature plants and 300 seedlings at a time.

Meanwhile, as many as 12 additional producers could be added to the program, upon approval of the plant rule, to better supply patients. The agency has not been accepting applications from new producers for several years.

Health Secretary Retta Ward said Friday that the proposed changes are based on last year’s DOH-commissioned survey, which found that New Mexico producers were forced to turn away thousands of patients and ration their supply to others. Many producers that responded to the survey said they were frequently out of marijuana.

“We now have a plan to meet current and future patient needs,” Ward said in a statement.

Len Goodman, executive director of the Santa Fe based NewMexiCann Natural Medicine, one of the state’s 23 current medical marijuana producers, said the proposed changes could double the amount of medical pot available to patients….

“It will dramatically improve the situation, but it will not totally resolve the shortage,” Goodman told the Journal.

New Mexico was the first state to have its health department license and regulate a nonprofit medical marijuana distribution system. The medical pot program was approved by the Legislature in 2007 and signed into law by then-Gov. Bill Richardson.

Currently, there are 10,621 patients enrolled in the program, according to the Department of Health. That’s an increase of more than 1,500 patients from early last year.

In other action taken Friday, Health Secretary Ward approved adding two medical conditions to the list of eligible conditions for cannabis use — Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. That decision took effect immediately.

However, the health secretary rejected the recommendation of a state medical marijuana advisory board to add a third condition — traumatic brain injury — to the list.

In explaining her decision, Ward said there are no studies examining the long-term impact of treating traumatic brain injuries with medical marijuana…

With the addition of two medical conditions, there are now 19 conditions under which patients can apply for a medical marijuana card. Chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder account for the largest segment of certified users.

At least one public hearing on the proposed Department of Health rule change will be held this spring, according to the agency. A date and location for the hearing had not been set as of Friday. After the hearing, the agency will decide whether to adopt the proposed changes.

Read the full story in the ABQ Journal here.

Join us on Facebook and tell us what you think.  Has New Mexico turned a corner on marijuana policy?