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New Mexico medical pot application process slow, hazy: lawsuit

By Zelie Pollon

SANTA FE (Reuters) - Pot growers in New Mexico are suing the state, saying applications to distribute medical marijuana are being approved too slowly.

Since New Mexico began accepting applications in 2009, 116 non-profit organizations have filed to dispense medical marijuana and 25 have been given a license, said Paul Livingston, a lawyer for the six organizations suing Governor Susana Martinez, the state health department and the state.

The number of licensed distributors "does not come close to meeting the needs" of more than 3,000 patients who have requested medical cannabis, Livingston said.

"Now patients either have to do without medical marijuana or they buy it elsewhere -- from an illegal source," he said. It's hard to see where the focus is on a patient and the patient's suffering."

The suit filed last week says approvals have been arbitrary, inconsistent and far too slow. Most applicants haven't heard back, and those who are not accepted are given no explanation, the lawsuit says.

State officials acknowledge the process can be lengthy, mostly because they allow applicants the opportunity to redo incomplete applications, said Dominick Zurlo, harm reduction manager with the Medical Cannabis Program.

"This is uncharted territory," Zurlo said. "It's not a quick process, and we're focusing on quality, not quantity, for the long term."

Applicants must form a non-profit organization and board, submit "business trade secrets and proprietary information" and pay a $1,000 application fee.

Charlie Kokesh filed his application in October, inspired by his son Adam, who developed post traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq with the Marines. Kokesh says medical marijuana has helped dissolve his son's nightmares and moderate his chronic pain.

"Adam's very positive experience with pot changed my attitude. We decided to get a license to reach out to other veterans," said Kokesh, who said he has not heard back from the state on his application.

Former Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill in 2007 legalizing the use of medical marijuana for "debilitating medical conditions" such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV or epilepsy.

Fifteen other states and the District of Columbia have some sort of medical cannabis program, Livingston said.

Some applicants involved in the lawsuit have waited two years, Livingston said.

"It's not like they're in limbo for two years," Zurlo said. "We've given a lot of feedback. It may just not be what they want to hear."

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