Additional cannabis producer asks to intervene in lawsuit over plant count

A potential new party to a lawsuit filed against the New Mexico Department of Health could further complicate the issue of how much medical cannabis is enough for the state. 

Medical cannabis producer R. Greenleaf has asked a state judge to allow the company to intervene in a lawsuit filed by three other medical cannabis companies that argue the state’s mandated limit on cannabis plants should be raised to better meet demands. R. Greenleaf, through its lawyer, argued that the three producers calling for a higher plant limit are not representative of the rest of the medical cannabis industry. Earlier this year, R. Greenleaf submitted its own study to the DOH and argued that producers need less than 1,500 plants to adequately supply patients with cannabis. 

The lawsuit, filed by producers Ultra Health, Sacred Garden and G & G Genetics, argues that the most recent plant limit increase did not go far enough and that the DOH did not use reliable data to reach the current plant limit of 1,750. The lawsuit says the state did not account for things like additional qualifying conditions and a recent court ruling that allows non-residents of New Mexico to become medical cannabis patients. 

“The New Mexico Department of Health and Secretary [Kathyleen] Kunkel have promulgated an administrative rule that violates a valid, un-appealed order from the First Judicial District Court,” the initial lawsuit read. “The rule also contradicts the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act and defeats the purpose and fulfillment of that statute.”  

The DOH has not filed a response yet, but the request by R. Greenleaf to intervene implies a disagreement amongst producers about whether New Mexico has, or is headed towards a shortage of medical cannabis.

The economy of words—and economics in elections

Words have meaning. But sometimes in politics, there are delineations between former job titles and former job duties. An Albuquerque city council candidate’s self-proclaimed experience as a city economist has raised a question: What is an economist? Since council candidate Zachary Quintero announced his candidacy for City Council District 2, which encompasses downtown Albuquerque, NM Political Report received numerous comments and concerns about one of Quintero’s claims. According to his campaign and at least one of his social media accounts, Quintero worked as an economist for the City of Santa Fe. But Santa Fe does not have a city economist.

ABQ city councilors introduce gun legislation

Three Albuquerque city councilors announced they filed three proposed ordinances related to gun possession in the council chambers, storage of guns and threats of violence online. 

Councilors Pat Davis, Isaac Benton and Diane Gibson held a press conference Wednesday afternoon to present their proposals. 

One ordinance would prohibit guns at functions like city council or county commission meetings and public forums, like town hall meetings with constituents. 

Gibson said many city meetings get heated and some of her constituents have expressed concern for their safety.   

“Many of these gatherings involve a lot of emotions, people are very passionate,” Gibson said. “It’s already a highly charged situation at many of these venues.”

Another ordinance would make it a misdemeanor to leave a gun accessible to others without some sort of lock or device that would prevent the use of it. 

“When you lay a gun down and walk away, we want to be sure it’s not accesible for a kid who can use it, someone who commits suicide or a bad guy who sees it as a target to take,” Davis said. 

Davis, a former police officer, added that simply locking it in a vehicle would not be compliant with the proposal, noting that many guns are stolen out of owners’ cars. 

“If it’s in your car it just needs to be secure and so it can’t be operable,” Davis said. “You can’t shoot a gun that doesn’t shoot bullets.”

The third ordinance would extend a city ordinance prohibiting threats of violence to online platforms. 

One Albuquerque attorney said the councilors would be violating the state constitution if the proposals passed. 

Blair Dunn, who has a history of suing state agencies, said he’s already preparing a case against the councilors. 

“They can’t do it, it’s against the constitution,” Dunn said. 

Indeed, New Mexico’s constitution includes a provision that only allows gun laws on the state level. 

But during the councilor’s press conference, Davis said he and his colleagues are prepared to defend their legislation. 

“We believe we have a defendable case and we’re willing to take it as far as we have to in order to keep our city safe,” Davis said. 

Dunn is already representing a group that is suing New Mexico’s secretary of state and attorney general for denying an attempt to overturn a state gun law through a petition process. 

Regardless, the proposals will need more support than from the three councilors to get a shot at passing.

Amid back and forth court filings, DOH not issuing medical cannabis cards to non-residents

The issue of whether non-residents of New Mexico can enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program is still not settled. A flurry of three motions were filed in three days in a civil case over whether non-New Mexico residents are eligible for state medical cannabis cards. The New Mexico Department of Health filed a motion last week asking a state judge to reconsider his decision to compel the state to issue medical cannabis cards to anyone with a qualifying condition, regardless of where they live. On the same day, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and DOH jointly filed a motion asking a judge to stay, or hold off on, his order for DOH to issue cards to non-residents. Then, on Monday, the three petitioners who originally argued they were due medical cannabis cards even though they live outside New Mexico filed a motion calling for the program’s director to be held in contempt of court. 

The court case started in July when two Texas residents and an Arizona resident who is the CEO and president of a New Mexico medical cannabis asked a judge to force the state to issue the three petitioners medical cards.

‘Latinos for Trump’ call on supporters to talk to friends and neighbors

The morning after President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Rio Rancho, a group of about 100 people gathered to encourage Trump supporters to talk to their friends and neighbors about Trump. 

Latinos for Trump held a panel discussion at Casa Rodeña, a winery in the village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Guest speakers included members of Latinos for Trump, the state Republican chairman, a state representative and Trump’s campaign manager. The message:  volunteering and having conversations about Trump’s policies, not social media posts, is the best way to garner support for the president in Hispanic and Latinx communities. 

Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale has a background in digital media campaigns and said while the Trump campaign will utilize digital technology to connect supporters, the real effort should be local. 

“Winning elections is not about what I do on my computer or what we do across the country, it’s what you do in your neighborhoods,” Parscale told the crowd. 

Echoing his boss, Parscale said news organizations cannot be trusted to get the story right. Instead, he said, it’s up to friends and neighbors to share Trump’s policies and educate each other. 

“We do not get true information when we watch TV,”Parscale said. “Let me just tell you, from a guy who’s had a lot of fake news written about himself.”

Katrina Pierson, a senior advisor for the 2020 Trump campaign, also spoke and told the crowd that support for Trump goes beyond political affiliations. 

“We’ve transcended red and blue states and I think a lot of people have not figured that out yet, because now we have a decision to to be either pro or against America,” Pierson said. 

State Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, told the crowd person-to-person conversations and contagious energy were part of the reason counties like Colfax, Hidalgo and Valencia flipped to Republican in the presidential race in 2016.   

“If we can multiply that with these people in this room and make that excitement happen in their hometowns and neighborhoods, President Trump will coast to victory in New Mexico,” Baldonado said. 

State Republican Chairman Steve Pearce also spoke at Tuesday’s event and praised the venue’s owner John Calvin for having the “courage” to host a political event. 

Calvin, a self-described life-long Republican and “lover of freedom and of free speech,” said he welcomes anyone who wants to hold an event at his winery. 

“Not everybody who comes here is a Republican.

Trump rallies in Rio Rancho, vows to flip NM in 2020

President Donald Trump visited New Mexico Monday for the first time since he took office and he hit all the notes he usually does in his winding, 90-minute speech, including talk of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, attacking what he calls fake news and lambasting politicians he calls corrupt. 

Within minutes, a protester was removed from the event. “Looks like someone’s going home to mommy,” Trump said of the protester. 

The president, as he often does at rallies, boasted about the number of his supporters who come out to see him speak. 

“We tried to get the biggest arena we could get, but it’s never big enough,” Trump added. 

The Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, which holds 7,500 for concerts, was indeed full. 

According to news reports ahead of Trump’s visit, his campaign believes he can win New Mexico in 2020. 

Trump used the state’s oil and gas industry as an example of why he thinks Democrats’ Green New Deal will be bad for New Mexico. If the plan were to pass, he said, there would be no air travel or cows and families would be forced to stay at home. 

“They’ll call us the hermit nation, we’ll never be able to leave the house,” he said. 

When he wasn’t praising his own administration, Trump took aim at Democrats, although he didn’t call out any local Demcratic lawmakers by name. 

Related: As Trump speaks, Democrats rally miles away

“Democrats want us to be subservient,” he said. 

But he did take a shot at U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who he has, in the past, called “Pochahontas” after she claimed Native American heritage. 

“I have more Indian blood than she does, and I have none,” Trump said of the top-tier Democratic presidential candidate. 

Multiple times throughout the night, Trump’s criticisms of the news media prompted most of the crowd to turn around towards the media enclosure and boo. The terms “fake news” was thrown around, both by crowd members and Trump himself. “The Democrat Party and the press, the media, the lame stream media, they’re partners,” Trump said.

Hundreds gather for tear-filled Charles Daniels memorial

Hundreds of people gathered Sunday morning to honor the life, career and accomplishments of the former Chief Justice Charles “Charlie” Daniels. 

As an early morning rain began to dissipate, friends, family and colleagues shuffled into Albuquerque’s Popejoy Hall to pay their respects. The crowd included a who’s who in political and legal circles. 

Daniels died September 1 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spoke at the memorial and said she first met Daniels through his passion for music, which he regularly played at bars and restaurants across the state.  

“I got to know what a kind and generous and funny person Charlie Daniels is,” Lujan Grisham said. 

The governor also dedicated September 15 to the memory of Daniels. 

Speakers fought through tears to tell heartfelt and funny stories about Daniels’ almost 50-year legal career. The theme of the morning was that Daniels was serious while simultaneously funny. 

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura recounted Daniels’ devotion to making sure the high court remained open to the public, despite financially difficult times for the state. “He modeled frugality by removing half of the lightbulbs in the Supreme Court’s halls, leaving us walking in the dark and writing on the back of scratch paper, using free pens that he picked up at banks and hotels, not just to save the state a few dollars, but to demonstrate that we were committed to do whatever we needed to do to keep the courts open and accessible,” Nakamura said. 

She added that he was usually the first person to arrive at the Supreme Court building, with little patience for inclimate weather excuses from others. 

“He often reminded both the justices as well as our court staff, ‘Pay attention to the laws of physics and don’t be a snow wussy,'” Nakamura said. 

In addition to his legal career, Daniels played in a band with other legal professionals called “Lawyers, Guns and Money” and for the past 20 years in a band called “The Incredible Woodpeckers.” Retired state District Judge Tommy Jewell and former bandmate of Daniels’ recounted a proposed band name Daniels came up with, illustrating the justice’s sense of humor. 

“We struggled with a name,” Jewell said.

Legal costs, impact on women often overlooked in lawsuits

When a state agency settles a lawsuit, often times the public’s focus is on how much money the state settled for. But an often overlooked portion of legal battles with state agencies is how much the state paid for legal representation. 

Since former Gov. Susana Martinez left office nine months ago, there have been a number of news reports about settlement payouts to a handful of former state employees for alleged workplace discrimination. Often, public scrutiny is aimed at the plaintiffs. In a high profile settlement involving former Department of Public Safety employees, New Mexico’s former State Police Chief, who was accused of sexual harassment, called the claims from his former employees baseless and accused them of extorting money from tax payers. But lawyers from two different lawsuits covered extensively by NM Political Report argue that there should be more focus on how much the state pays for long, drawn-out legal defenses to ultimately settle for hundreds of thousands of dollars, specifically when women are the accusers. 

 ‘It’s going to be like a proctology exam’

In December 2017, less than a month after the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center agreed to cut a jury trial short and settle with a former medical resident, Anesthesiology Chair Hugh Martin broke some bad news to his faculty—they would not be getting bonuses that year. 

“I regret to inform the faculty that due to the recent legal settlement with the former dismissed problem resident, Cyndi Herald, that the Department had to reallocate the monies I had planned to use for a retention bonus to pay the settlement legal costs to Ms. Herald/Attorney Lisa Curtis,” Martin wrote. 

The “problem resident” Martin referred to, Cynthia Herald, had spent years in a legal battle with her former employer.

Could Toulouse Oliver be part of a Senate ‘Squad?”

New Mexico’s primary elections are still more than eight months away, but that hasn’t slowed down candidates for U.S. Senate. Both the Republican and Democratic primaries have multiple candidates already, but arguably the Democratic race is the closest watched so far. 

Democrats will choose between U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who is walking away from the high ranking position in U.S. House leadership of Assistant Speaker of the House to run, or Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s Secretary of State. Luján has a financial advantage so far and secured endorsements from U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. But Toulouse Oliver said she believes New Mexicans care less about what friends in high places think.     

“We have our own local leaders that we look to and we’re very independent-minded,” Toulouse Oliver said.  “While I respect those decisions and respect Congressman Luján for getting that support for himself, I don’t think that it’s going to be even a remotely deciding factor at the end of the day.”  

Pushing the envelope vs. mainstream

Toulouse Oliver didn’t grow up with a high-ranking state legislator as a parent and doesn’t have the institutional knowledge of Congress — two things Luján can boast.

Judge rules non-residents can get medical cannabis cards

Out of state residents who qualify as a medical cannabis patient are now eligible to get a New Mexico medical cannabis card. 

A state district judge ruled Thursday that the New Mexico Department of Health must issue medical cannabis cards to qualified patients, regardless of where they live full-time. Thursday’s hearing was the latest in a back-and-forth between a medical cannabis producer and state officials—including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham—over whether a recent change in law opened the state’s program to non-residents. 

Though the judge ruled that DOH would have to start issuing cards to non-residents, the governor’s office said they aren’t giving up. 

Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Lujan Grisham, said the governor’s office plans to appeal the decision, but not before he took a shot at one of the petitioners in the case, Duke Rodriguez, who is an Arizona resident and also the president and CEO of the prominent medical cannabis producer Ultra Health. “We remain of the opinion that New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program should not be bulldozed by an out-of-state litigant operating with his own financial interests at heart rather than those of the state’s medical program or of the many New Mexicans who depend upon it,” Stelnicki said in a statement. “Today’s decision contradicts both the intent of the legislative sponsor and the interpretation of the New Mexico Department of Health, and the state plans to appeal the decision.”

Rodriguez declined to comment on what he called a “personal attack,” but that he’s ultimately happy with the decision    

“There was a lot of good testimonies from both sides today, but I think the judge did a superb job of refining the issues down to one core issue—that if you were to remove the word cannabis from the discussion this becomes an issue of treating it like any other medical care,” Rodriguez said. 

Rodriguez is one of the three petitioners, all of whom reside primarily in other states, who asked the court to compel DOH to issue cards to non-residents. DOH did not officially deny the applications from the three petitioners, but the department placed their applications on hold until they could show a valid New Mexico identification card address. 

David Morgan, a spokesman for DOH, said the department hasn’t determined whether they will start approving applications that come from out of state residents. 

“We are considering how to proceed given the judge’s ruling and the fact that an appeal is forthcoming,” Morgan said. 

If DOH does start issuing cards to non-residents, the next question is whether the state can adequately supply patients with enough cannabis. 

Plant counts for producers has long been an issue, specifically involving Rodriguez and DOH. 

For much of the Medical Cannabis Program’s existence, producers were only allowed to have 450 plants at any given time.