Medical cannabis in New Mexico deemed “essential business” amid COVID-19 crisis

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Medical cannabis patients in New Mexico can breathe a sigh of relief in the knowledge that they will be able to obtain their medicine as normal, despite the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. This news has been confirmed by the State Department of Health, which informed patients that interruptions will not arise as a result of the pandemic that has affected 203 countries and territories globally.

Medical Cannabis Program Director, Dr. Dominick Zurlo, recently sent a letter to stakeholders, producers and patients who are involved in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program. The letter outlined the necessity of preventing delays in dispensing plant-based medicine to patients; claiming that the green plant and its derivatives when supplied by Licensed Non Profit Producers (LNPP) are “essential services”, in addition to the services of licensed doctors who offer consultations and prescriptions.

The State of New Mexico has seen an increasing number of positive tests for COVID-19, which is transmitted via droplets that are released when an individual coughs or sneezes. These droplets can also contaminate surfaces and may even linger in the air for hours after an infected person sneezes/coughs. In serious cases, the respiratory virus can trigger symptoms of pneumonia and, as of April 2, 2020, 47,273 people around the world had died from contracting COVID-19.

“Accordingly, LNPPs are not required to limit operations pursuant to that order,” writes Zurlo, who based his words on a recent emergency health order that was released by the Secretary of Health Kathyleen Kunkel.

New Mexico’s medical cannabis patients will receive 90-day extension

Individuals who have enrolled in New Mexico’s medical cannabis patient program should be aware of the fact that, if their cards are due to expire anytime between now and June 13, they can apply for a 90-day extension. Zurlo advises existing and prospective patients to utilize telemedicine as a means of consulting with doctors/healthcare professionals for registrations/renewals.

‘Telemedicine’ is the term used to describe patient consultations/discussions that are not conducted face-to-face. Instead, conversations are carried out using HIPAA compliant video-conferencing tools. Diagnosis, medical imaging, patient card recommendations, renewals and registration can be managed using telemedicine services.

“As previously distributed to the LNPPs and Dispensaries, the Medical Cannabis Program recommends using pick-up, curb-side, or delivery service,” continued Zurlo, who recommends that patients take his advice on board in an effort to minimize the risks of COVID-19 spreading further across the state.

Zurlo also announced that the state may have to deal with staffing shortages. In his letter, he revealed that the Health Department would be “temporarily suspending” criminal background checks for prospective employees; the suspension will be relieved by June, which is when producers are required to submit their relicensing applications.

Patient applications for medical cannabis in New Mexico will still be processed

If you are someone or if you know somebody who is hoping to register for New Mexico’s medical cannabis program in the coming days, weeks or months, rest assured that patient applications will still be processed. On the other hand, patients will not be able to attend any of the state’s medical cannabis offices for in-person visits; as per Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s orders.

Furthermore, medical cannabis producers in New Mexico who wish to continue serving patients can apply for a license amendment to deliver medicine. Kunkel’s emergency health order states that, in these instances, patient-to-patient contact must be kept to an absolute minimum.

“Pick up and curb-side options do not require an amendment from the LNPP, however, delivery service does require an amendment in order to ensure policies are in place to ensure the safety of patients, staff, and safe delivery mechanisms,” Zurlo confirmed. He also made a point of noting that producers must restrict pick-up room capacity to a maximum of 10 people if they are offering collection services to patients.

Zurlo is not concerned about supply shortages of medical cannabis in New Mexico

Supply shortages are unlikely to be an issue in the coming months, in spite of the fact that the coronavirus crisis has dismantled numerous supply chains around the globe; predominantly in regards to the coronavirus’ effect on the cannabis industry China’s supply chain of vape hardware.

During a recent interview with NM Political Report, Zurlo reassured patients that a surplus of stock is yet to be distributed among people who are in-need of their medicine. He cited figures from 2019 when making his assumptions. At the end of the year, approximately seven million units of medical cannabis in New Mexico remained unsold.

As per the details of New Mexico’s medical cannabis program, one unit of medicine equates to approximately .2 grams of concentrated/extracted products or one gram of “dried flower product”. Although Zurlo has reassured patients that they won’t have to go without their cannabis amid the coronavirus scare, his cited figures have not actually been published online and therefore cannot be verified.