New Mexico is running out of pot.

Six years after then-Gov. Bill Richardson signed medical marijuana into law, supply of the drug is running so low that thousands of patients who suffer from debilitating conditions have been turned away in recents months, according to a survey of producers and patients by the state Department of Health.

DispensariesEven as the number of licensed marijuana producers in New Mexico has dropped, the demand has increased rapidly, with the number of registered patients rising 13 percent since earlier this year. Some patients have complained the shortages have driven them back to the black market.

“I have had to purchase from the street at times, and the quality is usually better, and it’s cheaper,” a patient said in the Department of Health report. The patient’s name was redacted from the report, which was released to the Albuquerque Journal. “That’s not right.”

Another patient told investigators ““producers (were) running out of medical cannabis very quickly, i.e., the same day they send an email stating what is available to purchase.”

At its peak, New Mexico’s MMJ program had 25 cultivators; there are now 23. Earlier this year, there were about 9,000 registered patients; as of Oct. 31, there were 10,289. At the same time, the number of conditions covered by the program has grown to 17.

The New Mexico Legislature approved medical marijuana, and Richardson signed in into law, in 2007. It was the first time a state directly regulated the sale of medical pot to patients through a dispensary system.

But the rules are so tight – among the tightest in the nation – that patients have complained since the start about shortages, poor quality and limited variety.

Because sellers must grow their own weed, and because they can only grow 150 plants at a time, patients usually have only three strains to choose from at any given time. Different strains have different effects on different illnesses, and patients often require specific strains that aren’t available because of New Mexico’s stringent regulations.

It’s not clear what action state officials might take to deal with the shortages. But the Department of Health is considering a recommendation by an advisory board to add three new conditions to the list of illnesses that can be treated with cannabis.

The Department of Health survey, which was conducted in August and September, concluded that the state’s medical marijuana patients would need about 11,000 pounds of pot each year. Producers, on the other hand, said they could provide only one fifth that amount.

“We are taking it seriously,” said Andrea Sundberg, coordinator of the state’s medical marijuana program. “We don’t want to do a knee jerk reaction. We’re analyzing it to determine what the next best steps are going to be.”

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