New Mexico Expands Medical Marijuana Program with Addition of Six Conditions

New Mexico Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel’s expansion of medical cannabis access fulfills one of Gov. Grisham’s campaign pledges.
New Mexico Expands Medical Marijuana Program with Addition of Six Conditions
Teri Virbickis/ Shutterstock

New Mexico’s medical marijuana program is opening its doors to more patients, thanks to a policy change revising the state’s list of qualifying conditions. On Thursday, New Mexico Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel signed off on the addition of six new qualifying conditions. But the one expected to draw the most new patients into New Mexico’s program is opioid dependency.

With the move, New Mexico joins a number of other states that have updated their medical marijuana programs to address the ongoing opioid epidemic. Health Secretary Kunkel also added a handful of other conditions that fewer states consider qualifying, including autism, Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative neurological disorders.

New Mexico Is the Latest State Turning to Cannabis to Curb Opioids

The United States medical community is desperately searching for alternatives to prescription opioids, or at least something that can reduce the number of opioid medications doctors prescribe. Meanwhile, prescription opioid abuse and illicit use have become a national health crisis. In 2017, the average national rate of opioid-involved overdose deaths was 14.6 per 100,000 persons. That same year in New Mexico, the rate was 16.7 deaths per 100,000. According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, those numbers have not significantly changed over the last several years.

But new research continues to suggest that cannabis can be a viable alternative to prescription painkillers. Other studies show how cannabis can help also ween people off of opioid dependencies. And in many places where medical cannabis is legal and accessible, opioid prescription rates have declined, especially among younger patients.

And in that research, first-year Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Gisham sees a possible answer to New Mexico’s battle with opioid use and addiction. As part of her campaign platform, Gov. Grisham called for expanding the state’s medical marijuana program to include those struggling with opioid use disorders. Gov. Grisham is a former state health secretary. And her campaign pledge to open up medical cannabis access was seen as a rebuke to former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, which had rejected appeals for medical marijuana expansion.

Austism, Alzheimer’s Added to New Mexico’s List of Qualifying Conditions

In addition to opioid use disorder, New Mexico Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel approved five other conditions. She approved autism spectrum disorder, Alzheimer’s disease and three other severe degenerative neurological disorders: Friedreich’s Ataxia, Lewy Body Disease and Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Patients suffering from these conditions won’t have to wait, either. Health Secretary Kunkel’s changes are effective immediately.

“We need to explore and pursue every available means of responding to the health and wellness needs of our neighbors here in New Mexico,” Gov. Grisham said of the announcement. “Compassion must guide our decision-making. Today marks an important and long-overdue step forward after too many years of the status quo.”

The total six new qualifying conditions bring New Mexico’s total up to 28. Most of the state’s 73,000 medical marijuana patients are enrolled for chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Adding these conditions to the Medical Cannabis Program provides medical providers new tools for relieving symptoms that may otherwise be difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to relieve through conventional means,” said Secretary Kunkel.

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