Medical marijuana patients find seeds hard to come by

New Mexico’s approach to medical marijuana is one of the most strictly regulated in the country, but patients here share problems with those in less regulated states when it comes to lawfully obtaining seeds or plants. Currently, New Mexico patients who are authorized to grow their own medical marijuana don’t have many legal ways to buy seeds or starter plants.

About half of the 14 states that allow medical marijuana require individuals or their caregivers to grow the drug privately. But the states say nothing about where those growers are supposed to get the seeds or seedling plants to get started.

It’s been a vexing issue for  New Mexico patients, about half of whom have a license to grow at home. Now the state has proposed a fix to the program that could change that.

New Mexico nonprofit producers aren’t allowed to sell seeds to patients

In New Mexico, authorized nonprofit growers are allowed to have 95 plants at any given time and individual patients can grow the drug at home. There isn’t a provision that allows other individuals to grow the drug at home, to then supply to patients. The law says nothing about how those home growers may acquire seeds or seedling plants, though.

Medical marijuana patient Dave Hall* knows the problem firsthand. He recently had his crop of 12 seedlings and four mature plants wiped out by a powdery white mildew. Since then, he’s tried to search out seedlings for sale but none have been available from non-profits. He could purchase seeds online, which is what he did originally, but they’re expensive and because they’re mailed through the U.S. postal service, he runs the risk that they will be confiscated.

“Growing medical marijuana is much more affordable than purchasing it from nonprofits,” he said, “but the lack of support systems in place to help people learn to grow and to get seedlings or seeds makes it difficult to sustain.”

State recognizes the problem

The seed issue is one of the things that the department is hoping to settle with proposed regulations that will be discussed at a public hearing in Santa Fe on Sept. 30, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health told The Independent Thursday.

The new rule would allow patients who are licensed to grow marijuana for themselves to buy from a nonprofit producer up to 16 seeds every three months.

“It’s a very young program and as it continues to evolve we’re going to look at these kinds of issues and where we can make changes to improve it for all involved,” spokesman Chris Minnick said.

But Hall worries the new rule might not make access to seeds or seedlings easier. He’s afraid the nonprofit producers won’t want to sell seeds or plants, unless other rules are changed also.

Medical marijuana that patients buy directly from nonprofits should be grown without seeds, he said, because the per-ounce cost of the drug is high and seeds add to that weight. For that reason, producers won’t have much of an incentive to set aside a portion of their plant allowance for seed producing plants, he said.

Also, he explained, producers would not want to keep starter plants to sell to patients because once a plant has roots, no matter how small, it is considered part of that 95 plant quota. Producers are unlikely to want to set aside a portion of their plant allowance to sell as seedlings, since a mature plant would yield much more revenue.

In the meantime, patients’ options include purchasing them on the street or through the Internet, he said. And when it comes to purchasing a seedling, the black market is essentially the only option.

New Mexico’s program now has 2,250 active patients, 1,022 of whom are licensed to produce their own supply of medical marijuana.

*Dave Hall is not the real name of this patient, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of legal issues between state and federal law.