Cannabis, Hemp, and a paid State Legislature? By Jason Barker (Medical Cannabis Patient & Organizer -LECUA Patient’s Coalition Of New Mexico)
The New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program has been a topic of many headlines across the state and nationally for several months now. News stories that have highlighted the Department of Health’s failure to comply with the law in for 7 months processing new and renewal applications into the program. In addition to headlines of increasing financial profits from within the medical cannabis program, program growth, and how recreational cannabis legalization can provide much needed funds to an underfunded state budget.
What’s missing? The voices of the medical cannabis patients and those in the medical cannabis community. Fundamental to this discussion are the interests of the more than 29,000 New Mexicans who benefit from medical cannabis under the 21 health conditions classified by Department Of Health in New Mexico eligible for the program. That’s also 29,000 voting New Mexicans...
New Mexico’s medical cannabis history started in 1978. Lynn Pierson, a 26 year old cancer patient, brought the value of medical cannabis to the New Mexico legislature. After public hearings the legislature enacted H.B. 329, the nation’s first law recognizing the medical value of cannabis. Later renamed The Lynn Pierson Marijuana & Research Act set forth a program that had over 250 New Mexicans receiving medical cannabis through the University of New Mexico until 1986. Federal opposition and state bureaucratic opposition developed thus ending the program in 1986.
Then in the early 2000’s, Erin Armstrong, a medical cannabis advocate who suffered from thyroid cancer, began to lobby the state legislature to pass a medical cannabis law. Armstrong, a Santa Fe High and UNM grad, spent three years tirelessly advocating for the medical cannabis program we have today. The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, 2007, passed under Governor Bill Richardson and was lead in the state legislature by Senator Cisco McSorley.
In a letter to Department of Health Secretary-designate Lynn Gallagher sent June 20th 2016. State Auditor Tim Keller wrote that his office will audit the department’s compliance with the legally-required 30-day waiting period for processing applications of new and returning medical cannabis patients. Patients, like myself, are all required to renew their cards every year despite all of patients in the program having serious medical conditions that will never go away. A “further failure to comply” with the time period from the department could result in special audits, risk advisory designations and even referral to law enforcement, State Auditor Keller warned.
The New Mexico Department of Health must be held accountable for not following state law for over seven months. And the Governor should direct Department of Health Secretary-designate Lynn Gallagher to promptly restore integrity to this invaluable program. The Medical Cannabis Program officials need to provide these suffering people in the medical cannabis community with immediate safe access to medicine by granting extensions now, just as they did for the licensed non-profit producers in the program.
Conservative estimates based on the legalization of recreational cannabis and increased sales taxes in neighboring states indicate that recurring revenues could be in the range of $75 million to $100 million annually. Financial reports from medical cannabis producers, that were made public for the first time this spring, show totals during the first three months of 2016 topped $10.2 million. The fiscal year, 2017 General Fund revenue sources for New Mexico draws 43% from Sales taxes and 26% from Income taxes. Colorado cannabis tax revenues now greatly exceeds original estimates of $70 million per year. Canada has had industrial hemp since 1998, and farmers there have reported net profits of $200 to $250 per acre. Most Canadian hemp is exported to the United States.
New Mexico’s economy continues to be one of the slowest growing economies in the country. The state budget shortfalls for 2016, and this slow growth reveals too much dependence on largess by the federal government and oil revenues. Those sources of New Mexico's economic malaise provide funding for educating the youth in our state and Health and Human Services programs like Medicaid. And now in the state, half of all New Mexicans are on Medicaid or medicare.
Of the three most crucial budget demands upon the state: Public Schools, Medicaid, and Higher Education. Combined they provide the true economic and social multiplier with the greatest opportunity of success for the state’s residents and the state’s economy. Providing funding for these invaluable programs in our state can be achieved with recreational cannabis and industrial hemp legalization; in conjunction with the utilization of solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources.
The state has the renewable resources to potentially provide 1,000 times more clean energy than Public Service Company of New Mexico’s current demand, according to the state Energy Conservation and Management Division.
New Mexico has the potential to be a national leader in the rapidly growing clean energy economy. Wind and solar power development is increasing, largely thanks to great resource potential, declining costs, and a successful state-level requirement that utilities supply 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. Thus, moving forward in this way would accelerate the state’s clean energy transition while delivering important economic, consumer, and public health benefits.
The state of New Mexico should legalize recreational cannabis and industrial hemp to first and foremost start paying the state legislators. A hybrid state legislature: Meeting for most of the year and pays the legislators as full-time employees. They can serve the constituents well because of their extended time in office and ability to devote more time to each issue. A regular session of no less than 120 calendar days, every other year make it no less than 60 days in session, and allow legislators to enact a special session under a three-fourths majority vote when needed. Legislatures considered to be citizen legislatures include Idaho, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. Many states, by contrast, have a hybrid or professional legislature.
The revenues from recreational cannabis legalization and industrial hemp legalization alone can further fund our Medicaid program in a sound manner. And it will also decrease that dependence upon the federal government and pave a path for much needed economic growth in several private sector areas.
Patients are critical to the success of future legalization and regulation of cannabis in the United States, and specifically medical cannabis. The needs of 1,246,170 million medical cannabis patients reported by ProCon.org March 2016, who rely on medical cannabis as their primary medicine are the fundamental criteria that will guide and help shape a positive trajectory for legalization. This should be the real true focus, not big pharma and big AG throwing money at advocacy groups to influence policy to favor profits over the medical cannabis patient community in any state. These patients' needs and experiences regarding medical cannabis must be represented and fully considered by those we vote and elect into office as they make decisions on regulations for a legal cannabis marketplace for both cannabis and medical cannabis.
We need to define a model for cannabis legalization, that keeps medical cannabis and puts patients first as well, and allows their physicians to provide the same level of care with medical cannabis as they do with other medications.
New Mexico has been providing Medical Cannabis to patients in the state since 1978, it’s time for New Mexico to return as the leader and pioneer in the sciences of medical cannabis and recreational cannabis. New Mexico can be a new leader among states, by showing how recreational adult use cannabis legalization can be done. By combining the high standards of alcohol regulation specific to craft brewery regulations we have in the state. Along with combined regulation- taxation like that of other herbal and nutritional supplements that are available in New Mexico. As all use of cannabis has true therapeutic aspects, in conjunction with the vast medicinal cannabis benefits, and revenue to fund underserved areas of the state economy. Ahóá New Mexico.