ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The demand for medical marijuana in New Mexico has outpaced production, and state health officials announced Friday they have a plan for tackling the shortage.
The Department of Health is proposing to increase the number of marijuana plants and seedlings that licensed, nonprofit producers can have and open the application process for more producers to become licensed. There are only 23 producers in the state now, but the number of patients is on the rise.
Health Secretary Retta Ward said the state takes the needs of its 10,621 medical marijuana patients seriously. She said her department commissioned a survey of participants last year so that a decision about supply could be made based on data.
“We now have a plan to meet current and future patient needs,” she said.
According to the survey, producers were forced to turn away thousands of patients because their supplies could not keep up with demand. With producers running out at unscheduled times, some patients were left to ration their stashes or turn to unknown sources.
After reviewing information about patients’ weekly usage and purchases, officials concluded that the program’s participants need more than 11,000 pounds of marijuana yearly. The problem: Producers were reporting harvests that would provide only about 2,200 pounds.
Under the proposals announced Friday, producers would be able to boost their crop from a total of 150 plants and seedlings to as many as 150 mature plants and 300 seedlings. The state would also be looking to add another 12 producers to the list.
New Mexico was the first state to have its health department license and regulate a nonprofit medical marijuana distribution system. The program has been operating for several years and is experiencing growing pains.
The number of licensed producers in New Mexico dropped from 25 to 23, while the number of active certified patients jumped to more than 10,000 in 2013, an increase of 1,200 in less than a year.
The Health Department is planning to hold a hearing this spring to discuss its proposals and give the public a chance to comment.
Officials said the application period for new producers will begin once the rule changes are finalized.
On Friday, the department also announced that Ward accepted an advisory panel’s recommendation to add Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases to the list of qualifying conditions to get into the program.
There are now 19 qualifying conditions that include cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder.