Len Goodman can’t grow enough marijuana to keep up with demand.
He is one of just 11 growers approved by New Mexico to produce pot for all of the state’s 2,000 registered medical marijuana patients, and his customers routinely wipe out his supply. Once a strain of marijuana is harvested, dried and cured, he sends an announcement that patients can place orders, and the pot is usually gone in 24 hours.
New Mexico has been so cautious in licensing and regulating growers under its three-year-old medical marijuana law that the small number of providers cannot grow enough, creating a shortage that has forced some patients to the street to buy illegal drugs.
The dilemma in New Mexico could have ramifications elsewhere because the state’s program has been held up as a national model, with other states looking to replicate its strong regulatory structure to avoid the chaos that has prevailed in places like California.
Prospective pot growers are subjected to a painstaking screening process before being granted a license. Once that happens, they are limited to 95 plants and seedlings and an inventory “that reflects current qualified patient needs.”
The providers’ identities and locations are kept secret, avoiding the kind of storefront dispensaries that have flourished in Colorado and California.
New Mexico State Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil says he must balance patients’ needs against preventing so much legal pot from being grown that it ends up in the illegal market. He said the program is being expanded methodically to ensure sufficient oversight and to get to know producers and how they operate.
He also opposes having hundreds of producers and many thousands of patients, which he said “absolutely takes it out of the arena of use for in-state patients and into the arena of de facto legalization.”
Medical marijuana patient Larry Love sees New Mexico as an example of what not to do. He contends the department approves new growers much too slowly.
Love, who runs a radio blog and has been highly critical of Vigil, got his medical marijuana card in June last year, but said it was not until November that he could get a supply from an authorized grower.
He said that drove him and other patients to the illegal market, despite the risks.
Goodman’s Santa Fe County business, NewMexicann, has 650 registered patients — five times the number of patients he said he can supply. As a result, he has to ration pot to patients who are chronically ill.
“Sometimes they don’t have enough so they use it when it’s really severe, which is not good,” he said. “It’s like seniors cutting down on their meds because they can’t afford it.”
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