New Mexico Health Department says the number of patients in the medical cannabis program has climbed to 25,000 from 14,000 a year ago, causing massive delays for new patient applications. Pictured: Walking Raven dispensary located in the heart of Denver's "Green Mile". (Vince Chandler, The Denver Post)

State auditor stepping in to speed things up for New Mexico MMJ patients

SANTA FE, N.M. — The state auditor and attorney general are looking into a backlog of applications for New Mexico medical marijuana identification cards at the Department of Health amid a surge in requests by patients.

State Auditor Tim Keller announced Wednesday that his office plans to monitor efforts to clear the backlog of registry card requests that has left applicants waiting beyond the 30-day legal deadline for approval or rejection.

The Department of Health says it is taking 45-50 days to process patient requests amid an unanticipated increase in applications over the past year, while the state auditor’s office says it has received complaints of wait times of up to 90 days.

By law, dispensaries in New Mexico cannot fill cannabis prescriptions to patients without a registry identification card. Prescriptions can be tied to treatment for cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder and other health issues.

Keller says his office may require a special audit or make a referral to law enforcement if card processing times continue to lag. The attorney general’s office has received one complaint about wait times and is looking into it, agency spokesman James Hallinan said. He declined to say more about the nature of the complaint.

Health Department spokesman Kenny Vigil said the number of patients in the medical cannabis program has climbed to 25,000 from 14,000 a year ago. The agency has hired two new full-time employees, assigned two temporary workers and added Saturday shifts in an attempt to reduce wait times for registry cards.

“We did not anticipate this type of growth for the program and could not have predicted it – based off growth in the program in previous years,” Vigil said in an email. “There’s a need to start looking to the future to see what the needs of the program could look like in the next year or two.”

The state auditor says the medical cannabis program returned $126,000 in unused funds to the state general fund at the end of the fiscal year ending in June 2015. The Health Department says that money was a result of a windfall in fees from medical marijuana producers as the state allowed them to grow more plants, and that a year ago, there were no excessive application delays.