NM Health Department approves first medical marijuana producer
The New Mexico Department of Health has licensed a nonprofit business to produce medical marijuana, the first business approved under a state program that allows patients with specified conditions to have and use small amounts of marijuana.
By SUE MAJOR HOLMES
Associated Press Writer
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Department of Health has licensed a nonprofit business to produce medical marijuana, the first business approved under a state program that allows patients with specified conditions to have and use small amounts of marijuana.
The department refused Wednesday to release the name of the business or where it is located, citing safety concerns.
Department spokeswoman Deborah Busemeyer said the name is being withheld to ensure that the supply is safe and that patients visiting the producer would not be put in jeopardy.
"We don't want a producer to be robbed," she said.
She also said no one challenged the secrecy aspect in public hearings over regulations the department drew up to implement the medical cannabis program that went into effect in July 2007.
"I think people recognize this is in the best interests of the producer and the patients," Busemeyer said.
The Health Department will notify patients how to contact the producer. Because of patient privacy requirements, the department cannot give patient information to the producer.
The department is reviewing the application of another nonprofit that wants to produce marijuana for the program. The program has approved 250 patients who suffer from specified chronic conditions that include cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
New Mexico's law differs from 12 other states with medical marijuana legislation in that New Mexico health officials will oversee the production and distribution system.
That puts the state crossways with federal drug laws that make it illegal for anyone to possess, grow or distribute marijuana or to solicit someone for those purposes.
About a month after the law went into effect, state Attorney General Gary King warned that the Health Department and its employees could face federal prosecution for implementing the act. Gov. Bill Richardson originally told the agency to proceed with the program but the state later pulled back from direct involvement in production and distribution, choosing to license nonprofits instead.
But on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signaled a change on medical marijuana policy, saying federal agents will target marijuana distributors only when they violate both federal and state law.
The same day, the New Mexico Senate voted 30-6 in favor of a memorial that asks state law enforcement agencies not to enforce federal law against medical marijuana use and to urge the state's congressional delegation to support any federal legislation that protects medical cannabis patients and producers. A memorial does not have the force of law.
The Santa Fe-based Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, which coordinated efforts to get the medical marijuana law passed, is pleased the department moved so quickly after issuing the program's regulations earlier this year, said the alliance's director, Reena Szczepanski.
Since the law was aimed at making sure no patient had to turn to "unregulated sources" for marijuana, "we really hope that as the department learns from its experience with this producer, they will perhaps consider licensing other kinds of producers or consider producing it directly through the Department of Health to meet the patient needs," Szczepanski said.
The alliance believes the need is greater than one producer can fill and wants producers to be geographically accessible to patients around New Mexico, she said.
"These medical conditions don't discriminate," she said.
The health secretary is responsible for determining the number and location of approved producers, considering the needs of patients and public safety.
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