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Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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Credit: Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance

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Just because recreational marijuana is legal in New Mexico now, don’t burn your MMJ cards. When a state legalizes recreational use of cannabis, people tend to stop getting medical marijuana cards. There are a lot of benefits to having a card, and as with any newborn law, the law will mature, there may be many changes, and you’ll be glad you applied for one or kept the one you already have. The MMJ benefits can far outweigh the convenience of over-the-counter recreational cannabis use.

The differences between medical and recreational marijuana are still significant. Cannabis consumers who opt not to get an MMJ can miss out on a bunch of benefits like not paying gross receipts taxes, different age limitations, reciprocity with other states, additional legal protection, a guaranteed supply if supplies run low in the state and access to nonprofit medical dispensaries.

If you are old enough to vote, you are old enough to have a card of your own. MMJ card holders can be 18 years of age or younger. If the patient is under 18 years of age, they must designate a primary caregiver who can purchase and transport the medical marijuana to the patient. The Cannabis Regulation Act allows for delivery and courier licenses; however, they have not yet been issued and will likely open sometime in 2022.

You have stronger legal protection, as a medical cannabis patient is given time to produce their medical card before any arrests or criminal charges are made. Both standard residents and medical patients are still subject to liability and/or criminal prosecution for any actions committed while operating a vehicle while under the influence of medicinal or recreational cannabis.

In states that offer reciprocity, you can possess and/or purchase medical cannabis there with your out-of-state MMJ card. There are basically two levels of legalized cannabis: medical and recreational. As different levels of cannabis legalization grow across the country, it’s important to know what you’re looking for in terms of out-of-state cannabis consumption. Some states with recreational use may be willing to sell recreational cannabis to out-of-state patients with medical marijuana cards, while others may allow you to visit medical dispensaries.

So, if you’re traveling and need access or if you are going out of state to see a specialist, reciprocity might allow you to use your card in another state. Be aware that it is illegal to cross state lines with cannabis. Always research the state to which you are traveling to make sure they will accept your out-of-state MMJ card.

The Medical Cannabis Provisions in the HB2 law guarantee that the supply of cannabis will be there for MMJ card holders if recreational sales go through the roof and dispensaries’ supplies dwindle. Until Dec. 31, 2022, 25 percent of monthly sales from cannabis businesses must be to registered patients, out-of-state patients and caregivers. As of June 29, 2021 medical cannabis dispensaries and MMJ patients no longer have to pay gross receipts tax on sales, and receipts from medical cannabis sales are deductible.

Licensed Non-Profit Producers (LNPP) serve the qualified medical patients of New Mexico. An MMJ card gives you access to nonprofit medical dispensaries. The objective is to ensure the safe production, distribution and dispensing of medical cannabis to qualified patients. The requirement that a patient’s first exam by a certifying practitioner must be in-person will be eliminated, allowing telemedicine for first and subsequent certifications.

People, particularly the older generation, are less hesitant to try cannabis because it’s legal now, and they may have tried everything else for help. Those who are new to the medical cannabis program often have reached the end of their rope. They’ve exhausted all the possibilities and gone through many different kinds of treatments and/or diagnoses. If they go to a medical cannabis dispensary, and they are treated with dignity and really listened to, many times they are able to get into some kind of cannabis treatment that provides them with relief—and in some cases, a cure. It may be impossible for these people to receive the kind of attention and care needed in a recreational shop

David White, founder and director of Organica, a nonprofit medical cannabis dispensary, told The Paper about a case scenario that “really scares” him. “I don’t want my grandmother, who has decided now that she wants to try cannabis, to go into a recreational shop to try to get help and talk to somebody about her medical condition—because, generally speaking, they wouldn’t be set up for that kind of interaction.”

White said the conversation might go something like this: “I’ve got this that tests out at 24 percent THC, and then we got Green Machine or Basic Karma that test out at 28 percent. Or I’ve got a bunch of different types of edibles. Which ones do you want, grandma?”

There are currently 28 qualifying conditions for the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program. Once you have decided to use medical cannabis as a treatment option for one of the state’s qualifying conditions, the registration paperwork (available at nmhealth.org/publication/view/form/135/) needs to be completed and submitted to the New Mexico Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program. Some qualifying conditions may also require current medical records. Telemedicine, using both audio and visual, may be accepted if the same medical provider has previously seen the patient at least one time in person. You’ll need a New Mexico state-issued ID to register. If your condition is not on the list, you can petition the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board for it to be added. There is no charge to apply or to renew a patient ID card.

For more information and resources on Adult Recreational Use, please visit: ccd.rld.state.nm.us/. Over the coming months, the Cannabis Control Division will promulgate multiple rules to establish the regulatory framework and licensing system for adult-use cannabis in New Mexico. You’ll be able to provide public comment on all of the proposed draft rules and participate in the public hearings. The state continues to update the site with the latest information regarding additional rulemakings, public hearings and public comment periods.

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