CannaGramma Speaks: NM DOH Screwed Up and Failed Med Pot Patients

Guest editorial by CannaGramma, aka Sarah Miles Dolk, a medical marijuana educator for people who know nothing about it, or have been misinformed. She is the author of the blog

There is a health crisis in New Mexico. Patients from all walks of life cannot obtain their medicine of choice, legal medical cannabis. People who don’t know any better may be thinking this is no big deal—so what if these people can’t smoke their weed? People who do know better recognize this as a health crisis as bad as when any severely ill patient cannot access the medicine they need.

What would you do if someone took life-sustaining medicine away from your mom, child, grandfather or any other loved one?

On July 1, 2007, our legislature enacted the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act (LECUA), making New Mexico the first state to institute a medical potregulated medical cannabis program by legislation. This law named the N.M. Department of Health as the entity responsible for running the program. LECUA states that the DOH must review, accept or deny any applications from patients to participate in the program within 30 days, and issue a card within five days of acceptance.

This isn’t happening now. The cards are good for one year, and then must be renewed. Renewals must be done within the same 35-day time period. That isn’t happening either. The Department of Health reports the delays are due to an ever-increasing number of applications and that they don’t have the staff to handle the processing of applications, but that isn’t the whole story.

Access to cannabis medicine in New Mexico has been cut off for thousands of the 25,000 registered patients who are waiting for their renewals, and new applicants are waiting up to 90 days to see if they are even accepted to the program. State Auditor Tim Keller, at least, is now forcing the department’s hand, warning of an audit if it fails to correct the situation. But that’s not much comfort to patients who now risk arrest and no relief from serious illness.

Here are the choices many medical cannabis patients face when their access to legal medical cannabis is cut off:

  • Find cannabis on the black market to make their own medicine, if they have the knowledge and tools.
  • Ask another patient to risk losing their right to use medical cannabis, and arrest, by purchasing it for them.
  • Go back to the doctor and get some sort of medication that may get them through the crisis, but will do further damage to their body.
  • Go back to the doctor and get refused because the doctor won’t serve a patient using a federally illegal substance (Veterans Administration patients, for one).
  • Wait it out and hope nothing bad happens, suffer the pain, suffer the mental anguish.
  • End up in the emergency department of some hospital or clinic with a life-threatening diagnosis they may or may not survive.

You may be thinking I am being overdramatic, but I’m not. I’m a medical cannabis patient who only has to deal with pain if my cannabis medicine is medical pot 3not available. I am one of the lucky ones—being cut off from medical cannabis has made life a living hell for some.

I know patients who have turned to cannabis medicine because they had been taking so many pharmaceutical medications prescribed by their doctors that their kidneys and/or liver was so severely damaged, their life was on the line. They were dying before they utilized their last resort: cannabis, which brought them back from the brink.

I also know patients who use cannabis because they had been addicted to opioids they’d been using for chronic pain, and wanted to get away from these drugs. Are they supposed to go back to the pills, become addicted again and have to go through painful withdrawal once more? Or perhaps they decide to endure the pain, not knowing when it will end.

Epileptic patients will have to endure seizures. PTSD patients will have to endure panic, anxiety and terrors. Some patients have no choices at all. For many, the pharmaceutical drugs stopped working for them or never worked at all, like those with Crohn’s disease and auto-immune disorders. What about the cancer patients who have been written off as terminal? I guess they just have to suffer. I could go on and on addressing every qualifying condition in the program, but I think you are getting this picture by now.

The New Mexico Department of Health screwed up in a big way by not having the foresight to hire more people to process program applications and renewals.

They screwed up with their purchase of the BioTrackTHC seed-to-sale software system, a system that is so riddled with flaws that patients already in the system may be turned away from medicine purchases because it sometimes falsely reports they have reached their 90-day limit.

They screwed up by not alerting patients that there was a problem until the media broke the story.

The NM DOH bears all the responsibility in this by not securing another way for patients to access their cannabis medicine when they discovered their own system wasn’t working. They failed us all, and if we were something other than cannabis patients, I highly doubt things would have gotten this bad for this long. What do you think would happen if pharmacies just stopped filling prescriptions because they were too busy, not prepared and were not sure when they would be able to fill prescriptions again? That would never happen.

Where do the patients caught up in this heinous situation turn to for help? Their options are few if any. The laws, rules and regulations don’t address a situation like this, and the promise to hire more people doesn’t do anything for the folks who have no medicine now. This is unacceptable. What makes it even worse is that there are still New Mexico lawmakers who look at cannabis patients as outcasts—potheads who are faking it all to get high. There’s no help there either.

What will it take for the New Mexico Department of Health to treat cannabis patients as they would any other citizen with serious medical conditions? We want to be treated fairly and with the respect we deserve.

Is that too much to ask?