State: Let's clear the smoke about medical pot licenses

By closing the application process and restricting access to information about New Mexico’s medical cannabis program, we cannot know how effectively the state is regulating production or distribution.

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Next year Taos will have its first facility that grows and sells medical marijuana. That’s good news for people who use cannabis to relieve their ills.

The state Department of Health, which regulates New Mexico’s medical cannabis program, granted a license to Southwest Wellness Center, which is purchasing one of Taos Community Development Corp.’s buildings to set up shop.

The health department permits patients who have a qualifying condition to purchase medical cannabis. Taos County currently has 541 cardholders, a significant jump from the 191 registered three years ago.

Now these patients won’t have to travel far to get the weed they need from a legal facility.

We don’t take issue with plans to establish a medical cannabis facility in Taos. However, we do with the secretive process used by the health department to grant a license to this dispensary and others in the state.

The Department of Health will not release information about the facilities currently licensed to grow marijuana and cloaked this latest application process in a similar secrecy.

Remember: this is legal marijuana.

By closing the application process and restricting access to information about New Mexico’s medical cannabis program, we cannot know how effectively the state is regulating production or distribution. We cannot know for sure how well patients are being served.

The secrecy also raises concerns about the fairness of the licensing process for groups poised to invest substantial money in New Mexico’s marijuana industry.

Southwest Wellness Center was not the only organization in Taos County to apply for a license to grow weed. A competitor claimed to have a sound business plan. But when they were passed over, the group raised concerns about the connections of Southwest Wellness Center’s supporters and whether politics played a role in issuing the license.

Southwest Wellness Center has a former Taos mayor on its board. An ex-member of the state Public Regulation Commission is its legal representative.

Perhaps those two people had nothing to do with Southwest’s successful proposal. Perhaps they did.

But we won’t know because of the health department’s hush-hush process.

Certainly, when someone applies to run a beer or wine distillery, sell or serve alcohol, the process is a public one complete with a hearing. We would like to see the same openness happen for medical cannabis.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, a group that aims to protect the public’s right to know, questions the lack of transparency concerning medical cannabis licenses. It filed a lawsuit along with a journalist earlier this year to challenge such confidentiality.

Even the governor has called for a change in the rules.

So are we. Let’s get rid of the smoke surrounding the medical cannabis program.

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