ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A state district judge has ruled that New Mexico health officials went beyond the scope of the law when they sanctioned a licensed medical cannabis producer for displaying a marijuana plant at the 2016 State Fair.
The Health Department initially ordered Ultra Health to close for five straight days during a period that included April 20, 2016 — or 420 Day, the busiest day of the year for cannabis sales.
Judge David Thomson in a recent order found the punishment would have amounted to a fine much greater than what is allowed under state rules, and reduced the sanction to two days. He also found that Ultra Health violated the state’s rules by moving the seedling from a secure growing facility in Bernalillo to Albuquerque for the display at the state fairgrounds.
“The department is right to want to ensure that cannabis is treated as a medicine under the act and not a road show prop,” Thomson wrote.
Ultra Health described the ruling as reasonable, saying it still didn’t believe a suspension of operations was necessary.
The Health Department declined to comment but has indicated to the company that it will appeal the ruling.
Ultra Health, the state’s largest marijuana producer, is also battling the Health Department in court over the number of plants licensed producers can grow.
Per Thomson’s ruling, Ultra Health plans to close one day in June and another in July. Employees will perform community service during those two days.
Despite New Mexico’s history as the first state to allow research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug, it wasn’t until recently that the state’s decade-old medical marijuana program began to grow exponentially.
Producers licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86 million in 2017, and the number of patients enrolled topped 53,000 at the end of May 2018.
Nearly half of those patients list post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition. Other conditions on the list include cancer and severe chronic pain.
Some state Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for recreational cannabis legalization, saying the resulting revenue could be a boon for a state that has struggled with high poverty and unemployment rates. Critics argue that New Mexico already has problems with substance abuse and addiction, and are fearful that legalizing marijuana would exacerbate those issues.