MMJ Suit: New Mexico System Makes Rural Patients Pick Up Pot at McDonald's

Jason Flores-Williams is a Denver-based attorney.

But he's taken on the cause of medical marijuana patients in New Mexico — particularly those who live in rural areas without easy access to MMJ.

In recent weeks, he's filed two court documents, including one today, that take up their cause, including a complaint that says the current system forces patients outside metropolitan areas to wait for MMJ drop-offs at McDonald's or Walmart branches. In his view, this situation not only violates privacy rights when it comes to their medical care but also makes them susceptible to becoming crime victims.

"Imagine a group of patients, many of them elderly or on respirators, all having to sit at a McDonald's while they wait for their medical marijuana to be delivered," Flores-Williams says. "It's like having to score heroin in Times Square.

"Everyone knows who they are and why they're there," he continues. "And because this is a cash-only business, it's setting up these people to be jacked. It's not if something violent happens. It's when."

Flores-Williams traces many of the issues related to MMJ access in less populated portions of New Mexico to the administration of Governor Susana Martinez, who, he says, "has gone on record as saying she doesn't want the program."

Under the system, he goes on, the New Mexico Department of Health "is tasked to regulate medical marijuana programming for licensed, card-holding patients. But they've done this in a way that violates equal protection. Most dispensaries have only been approved in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and regional and poor areas have been left out in the cold, even though tons of veterans, elderly cancer patients and mine workers live there and really need this stuff.

"The only way they can get it is to have it delivered from a licensed dispensary in one of the bigger cities — and under privacy and HIPAA laws, it should really be delivered to their homes. But what's happening is that these delivery drivers are sending out group texts to all the patients in Raton, New Mexico, or Grants, New Mexico or places like these and saying, 'Okay, I'm coming in on Saturday. Everybody go to the McDonald's between two and six p.m."

As a result, Flores-Williams contends that various McDonald's branches, as well as affiliates of Walmart and TravelCenters of America, both of which are mentioned in the lawsuit, have become de facto drug distribution centers in violation of federal law, and likely without the knowledge of the companies themselves — although Flores-Williams has sent a letter to each of the firms informing them about what's going on.

Additionally, Flores-Williams has filed a a petition for what's known as a writ of mandamus. The filing asks the New Mexico Supreme Court to mandate the approval of a medical marijuana provider in the western part of New Mexico, where the nearest dispensary is often many miles away.

The writ is "based on equal protection in the most basic sense," Flores-Williams says. "The law is supposed to treat us all the same, whether we live in the city or in a rural part of the state. But if you're a medical marijuana patient, you basically have no access to the medication. That makes you dependent on these deliveries, which violate all kinds of laws. Patients are being forced to go to public places in this new black market to buy their marijuana."

Could the lawsuit endanger the medical marijuana program as a whole? Flores-Williams is hoping language in the complaint prevents such a possibility.

"In the section where we ask for injunctive relief, there's a preemptive strike. We specifically say, 'Please, court, don't let the Martinez administration use this as a reason to shut down the entire program' — and that's something they might try to do. The quickest analogy is to the voting rights act. The government came in and said everyone had an equal right to vote, but some places in the South made it impossible to vote — and then they said, 'Things are so bad that we're going to dump the whole program and not follow the law.' And we don't want to see that happen here."

Look below to see a KOB-TV report about last month's writ filing, followed by the aforementioned documents.

DeSoto v. New Mexico Department of Health

New Mexico Medical Marijuana Writ

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts