Cannabis Wellness Bill protects patients

With more than 100,000 patients enrolled in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program, the state Legislature must guarantee that patient protections remain a top priority during the 2021 legislative session.

With an increased public willingness to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes and a political desire for increased tax revenue, the decision to legalize recreational cannabis must not occur in a political vacuum nor a mad dash for cash during a pandemic, causing undue economic and societal hardships.

I’ve been at the forefront of New Mexico’s medical cannabis debate for two decades, first as an activist advocating legalization for medicinal purposes. I am also the founder and president of R. Greenleaf Organics, one of the state’s top medical cannabis providers.

Serving thousands of patients annually, R. Greenleaf Organics has grown to employ over 150 New Mexicans and serve patients at eight clinics located in Albuquerque, Roswell, Las Cruces and Grants. Our mission remains to provide high-quality, safe cannabis medicine for New Mexico’s most vulnerable patients.

The proposed Cannabis Wellness Bill is a responsible alternative to the legalization of recreational cannabis. This approach safeguards our Medical Cannabis Program by expanding a system that is already functional but does so in a measured way. It will also immediately generate new tax revenue without additional, excessive and costly bureaucracy.

While neighboring states rush to legalize, New Mexico faces significant and unique drug abuse and addiction challenges. It’s essential to recognize that what’s right for other states may not be suitable for our communities. The Cannabis Wellness Bill maintains a working registry program that gives law enforcement access to closely monitor sales. A robust registry will significantly curtail illegal diversion and underage use.

The state also would see considerable savings over other bills that call for creating departments, procedures and additional regulations. With the Cannabis Wellness Bill, all of the necessary infrastructure exists and is operational. So expansion will mostly depend on increasing plant limits to maintain adequate product inventories to meet increased demand.

The Cannabis Wellness Bill would split the current Medical Cannabis Program into two different classes — one for existing patients with qualifying conditions and a doctor’s recommendation and a second class for all New Mexicans to register, purchase and use cannabis responsibly for general wellness.

The original medical class would pay no tax on purchases. In contrast, the new general wellness patients would pay taxes between 15 percent and 20 percent, with some restrictions to maintain safety, quality and quantity of available medicine. The Cannabis Wellness Bill generates fees for participation in the program. Taxes on wellness sales would eventually equal those projected for recreational sales — which we estimate between $300 million and $500 million in total revenue by 2022.

The New Mexico Legislature promised patients access to medicine 12 years ago when they committed to building and maintaining a Medical Cannabis Program. Now, impending legalization, political deals and an insatiable appetite for new revenue may restrict access to medicine at a time of peak patient demand.

Patient protections must outweigh the desire for the legalization of recreational use and wishful revenue projections. Now is the time to renew our commitment to the Medical Cannabis Program by supporting a Cannabis Wellness Bill that streamlines access, increases tax revenue and protects patients responsibly.

As a company and industry, we’ve demonstrated a dependable approach to providing New Mexicans with safe, reliable and regulated medicine for the past decade. Let’s continue to live up to the promise by supporting a measure that will always put our patients ahead of profits.

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