New Mexico Medicinal Cannabis Producers Say Reforms Need To Address Access and Security Issues

Jul 23, 2014

Mandy Denson is the Co-owner of Compassionate Distributors dispensary, Ruidoso- she says the New Mexico medicinal program needs to be more conscious of challenges posed by federal prohibition.
Credit Simon Thompson

Mandy Denson co-owns Compassionate Distributors dispensary in Ruidoso. She says when medicinal marijuana was approved in New Mexico and dispensaries started setting up shop they were mainly in the northern part of the state.

“Our portion of the state in southeastern New Mexico is very poor I grew up in Roswell so I am familiar with the general demographics ". She says.

Denson realized that if there was going to be any reliable access to cannabis medicine in southeastern New Mexico– she was going to have grow it herself.   But as a mother and working professional she couldn’t just blatantly risk breaking federal law to do so.

At least not until 2009 when there was a change in federal enforcement priorities.

“The attorney general at that time said that federal resources shall not be used to police compliance with state programs and so I at that point felt that it was safe “ she says.

But even with the rolling back of federal enforcement and the establishment of the state program there are still major gaps in oversight and management of New Mexico’s medicinal marijuana program.

Compassionate Distributors sells medicinal products to people in Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Ruidoso and Roswell. At the moment they’re having problems banking revenue from those sales with financial institutions.

“Since they are insured federally and what we are doing is illegal under federal law they were too worried about compromising their insurance. Others will just say they won’t take it because they are not dealing with the cannabis business” she says.

The local bank the dispensary had been with for 3 years closed the company’s accounts.

“Producers up north have found banks, but they are weird little banks that I haven't heard of that are not down here" she says. 

Denson says unless she can find an institution nearby she will have to transport her company’s cash up to Albuquerque or Santa Fe, putting her employees and the money at risk.  Given the fees taken by the medicinal marijuana program Denson says the state has an obligation to develop solutions to deal with the complexities thrown up by federal law.

But rather than making things easier Denson says the state is creating more roadblocks.  She says New Mexico forces dispensaries to operate as non profits, a status the federal government won’t recognize.

“We have to  file a regular schedule return with the IRS so that means we are not allowed the benefit of non profit tax exemptions that 501 c3 would be allowed federally so we taxes as if we were a for profit corporation  yet we don’t get a lot of the same deductions and things a  for profit corporation would” she says.

And this makes supplying affordable medicine to patients all the more difficult.

Some marijuana dispensaries and medicinal marijuana patients regard the state’s current program as a comfortable purgatory before federal recognition.

But Denson says an adjusted state program would be better for both patients and the state economically.  

“I fear total legalization because I don’t want to see big tobacco or big 'pharma' come into the industry and do to this industry what they have done to their own respective industries which is basically pawn off, harmful substances   on the public while misleading them  as to  the effects and long term consequences of there products would cause which we’ve seen over and over again with pharmaceuticals  and we have seen obviously everyone knows with tobacco” she says.

Denson says she is working with dispensaries throughout the state to utilize legal avenues to make New Mexico more accountable for the medicinal program.