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New Mexico health agency scaling back proposed changes to medical marijuana program

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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Gov. Susana Martinez's administration is scaling back possible changes for New Mexico's medical marijuana program.

A state Department of Health official told legislators during a Thursday hearing in Taos Pueblo that the agency will scrap two proposals that had come under fire from pot producers and users, the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/1jEW04U ) reported.

One would have instituted criminal background checks for patients approved to grow their own marijuana. The other would reduce the number of marijuana plants allowed for personal consumption.

Patients now can grow up to four plants and 12 seedlings. The proposed change would have allowed two plants and six seedlings.

Meanwhile, the department also plans to change a proposed fee structure for licensed producers, and is considering whether to move ahead with a new $50 annual fee for renewal of users' registry cards.

A medical marijuana advocate applauded the scrapping of the two proposals, which she said would have made it more difficult to obtain marijuana.

"We are pleased to see they are coming to their senses on the proposed changes," said Emily Kaltenbach, the director of the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance.

Department spokesman Kenny Vigil said the department is making the changes based on public comment. "The department takes the feedback it receives very seriously and will continue to review it," he said.

The department will make a final decision on its remaining proposals after it receives a hearing officer's report, Vigil said.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, the vice chairman of the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee, said he was encouraged by Health Department officials' receptiveness to public feedback.

The proposed changes to the medical marijuana program were unveiled by the Health Department in February after an internal survey found the program was struggling to supply a growing number of patients. They include changes in fees, testing and plant limits.

New Mexico's medical pot program was created in 2007. More than 11,000 people are enrolled, according to the department.

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