New Hampshire's medical marijuana program is extending the renewal deadline for patients whose medical cards expire over the next three months.
The announcement coming out today is in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"All those patients who have cards that are expiring in April, May and June of this year, we will be extending the expiration of their cards to July 31st, and that's because patients are having difficulty accessing their doctors for renewal appointments for recertification," said Michael Holt, an administrator of the state's therapeutic cannabis program.
"Hopefully that will ease patients' anxiety about continuing their access to therapeutic cannabis during this crisis."
Holt says his office is not seeing an increase in requests for medical marijuana cards at this time.
This could be due to patients' inability to see a doctor or schedule an appointment, even though certifications can occur remotely via telehealth.
Sales did notably increase last month at the five alternative treatment centers in New Hampshire. There was a 20 percent increase in cannabis sales across all the ATCs in the state in March, compared with February, according to the therapeutic cannabis program.
"Patients are, for lack of a better word, stocking up on cannabis supplies during this time," Holt said, "in part because they want to make fewer trips to the dispensaries to restrict or to limit their exposure to the community and also to just bank against an ATC perhaps not being able to provide services due to their own staff becoming sick."
State law imposes a limit of 2 ounces dispensed every 10 days, and there is a patient possession limit of 2 ounces at any one time.
There are 9,800 patients enrolled under the law, as of March 31.
Medical cannabis dispensaries are classified as essential businesses. They are open for business, but the ATCs have reduced hours and they are operating with some restrictions to limit possible spread of the coronavirus.
Patients are also required to pre-order, placing orders by either phone or online, depending on the specific ATC.
Holt says one of the biggest changes, in terms of operations, is the therapeutic cannabis program allowing for curbside pickup - as long as it remains in full view of security cameras on the premises.
The state office remains open, but it is closed the public, as of April 7. Holt said the state has not seen an increase in cards at this point, and applications for would-be patients has slowed in the past week or two.
In response to COVID-19, the state also encouraged patients to designate a caregiver in case they get sick, and the program waived the caregiver application fee.
The program has streamlined the process for background checks for caregivers; state background checks are still required, and conducted remotely.