Onsite consumption areas at New Mexico medical marijuana retailers authorized by a law scheduled to go into effect next month could be delayed by ongoing restrictions put in place to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, according to the state’s top cannabis regulator.
Under a bill passed by the New Mexico legislature last year, licensed medical marijuana providers will be able to apply for a license to add an area for onsite cannabis consumption to their dispensaries. The new regulation is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, pending approval from Kathy Kunkel, the secretary of the state health department, who has yet to sign off on the plan.
Dominick Zurlo, the director of the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program, told local media that the continuing business restrictions enacted in light of the coronavirus pandemic may affect the rollout of cannabis consumption areas. And when the lounges are permitted to open, they will be required to comply with executive orders and safety procedures issued because of the pandemic.
“What I think is very safe to say is that, just like any other business or essential service, they will have to follow the COVID-19 guidelines that are set out in the public health orders and executive orders,” Zurlo said, adding that whether the number of new coronavirus cases is going up or down is likely to affect how cannabis consumption areas are permitted to operate.
“If COVID-19 continues the way we are right now, then that’s going to make things a little easier,” he said. “But if we start seeing increases in transmission rates then once again, there may be changes.”
Restrictions placed on consumption lounges could include limits on capacity and requirements for patrons to wear face masks. Zurlo also noted that once cannabis consumption areas do begin operations, it is likely that the rules could be modified due to changes in the coronavirus infection rate.
“I anticipate even once things move forward, with the consumption sites starting to be available that it probably will change at different points based upon what’s happening with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Zurlo said.
Reciprocity Also Coming To New Mexico
The legislation passed last year also includes provisions to allow patients registered in another state’s medical marijuana program to purchase and use medicinal cannabis while visiting New Mexico. Kunkel has already signed off on the rules for the reciprocity program, which is also scheduled to begin on July 1.
However, Zurlo noted that even when the reciprocity rules go into effect next month, dispensaries could see few patients from out of state because of the reduction in nonessential travel prompted by the pandemic.
“The idea behind the reciprocal patient was really for individuals who, while yes they may be traveling through for vacation and those sorts of things, that’s being discouraged throughout the state based on the public health orders,” Zurlo said.