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Surveys on medical pot detail New Mexico supply shortages

State-commissioned surveys of New Mexico medical cannabis producers and patients show that many dispensaries are encountering difficulties in meeting demands for marijuana and related products.

The Department of Health commissioned the surveys as it considers changing its limits on medical marijuana cultivation and per-patient consumption.

In results obtained Tuesday, 55% of producers said they have been unable to keep pace with patient demand for marijuana and related products.

Patient enrollment is surging in New Mexico's medical marijuana program for health ailments such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, with a 39% jump in participation between March 2018 and March 2019. Active patients now number more than 72,000.

Of the patients surveyed, about one in four said they were unable to purchase cannabis within the past 90 days because it was out of stock. Shortages were more pronounced in eastern New Mexico, with about four in 10 patients citing shortages.

The surveys of all 34 licensed producers and more than 600 patients also delved into business ambitions, product preferences among patients, and overall satisfaction with New Mexico's 12-year-old medical cannabis program.

Nearly all producers intend to expand in the future, while six in 10 patients say they purchase edibles — mainly chocolates, bars and gummy candies. The vast majority of patients were satisfied with the state program, while producers were more divided in their opinions.

The Health Department is crafting a new rule to determine limits on medical marijuana production after a lawsuit knocked down the previous 450-plant cap per producer.

A state district court judge ruled in November that the production limit had interfered with the beneficial use of marijuana by patients, siding with seller Ultra Health and the mother of child who is reliant on cannabis oil to treat a rare form of epilepsy.

Ultra Health, New Mexico's largest seller, says medical cannabis sales are growing at a much slower rate than enrollment, which is up by 16% between March 2018 and March 2019.

The sales figures could not be independently confirmed.

The company says consumers appear to be turning to the illicit market or supplies from Colorado's recreational market. Health Department spokesman David Morgan declined to comment on the assertion.

Most producers linked the problems in meeting demand to the state's plant-count limit.

Ultra Health says the program is overly restrictive in several aspects and is urging the state to increase or eliminate its production cap, as well as raise per-patient purchasing limits and allow sales discounts by volume.

The Health Department has indicated it could address the current patient purchase limits — restricted to the equivalent of 230 grams (8 ounces) each 90 days — in its new proposed rule.

"We don't believe a higher plant count is going to solve all of the program's issues," said Marissa Novel, a spokeswoman for the company in its Scottsdale, Arizona, headquarters.

The patient survey indicated about half of respondents would buy more medical cannabis if they could.

Costs also are a concern among marijuana patients, who cited lower prices at recreational marijuana dispensaries in neighboring Colorado.

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