Gov. Lujan Grisham’s 2020 State of the State address, annotated

NM Political Report partnered with New Mexico PBS, KUNM-FM, Searchlight New Mexico and the Alamogordo Daily News to analyze Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State Address. Below is a copy of her speech, with annotations.

Cannabis legalization looms large in session

The 2020 legislative session starts tomorrow and besides the standard 30-day budgetary issues, many eyes are on cannabis and whether this is the year it becomes legal to use recreationally. Last week, two lawmakers filed bills aimed doing just that. 

Rep. Javier Martinez and Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, both Albuquerque Democrats, are cosponsors of the Senate version of the Cannabis Regulation Act. Martinez is the sponsor of the House version of the bill. 

The bills are largely based on recommendations from a legalization work group and a legalization bill that failed to get to the governor’s desk last year. Both bills are 175 pages long and prescribe how recreational should be taxed, age limits for possessing or consuming cannabis and which state entities will be involved. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced last year that she would support a comprehensive legalization bill and added to “the call” this year. It is nearly unheard of for legislation to make it to the governor’s desk without some amendments, so these two bills will likely change in the next 30 days, but here are some key points of the bills. 

Possible heartburn

Various different lawmakers have tried to pass recreational legalization bills over the years, but 2019 marked the farthest in the process a proposal made it in recent history.

DOH set to finalize rules on cannabis consumption areas, new testing standards

New Mexico is one step closer to establishing sanctioned, legal areas for medical cannabis patients to use their medicine. 

The Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program held a public hearing Thursday to hear comments from the public regarding department rule changes. Those changes include higher testing standards for cannabis producers and manufacturers, reciprocity for medical cannabis patients already enrolled in a medical program in another state and consumption areas. 

Most comments from the public were about the testing standards, but some medical cannabis patients said they would like to see more leniency on who can open a consumption area and where they can open it. 

Erica Rowland, a founding member of the Albuquerque-based cannabis producer Seven Clover, said the opportunity to open a consumption area should not be limited to those who already produced the cannabis. 

“Consumption areas should not be limited to [Licensed Non Profit Producers],” Rowland said. 

But because the state’s cannabis law is specifically written and leaves little room for interpretation, the Legislature would need to act to change consumption area requirements. After changes made during the 2019 legislative session, the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act allows for consumption areas, but requires that they are owned and operated by a Licensed Non Profit Producer, effectively barring someone from starting a new business solely for cannabis consumption. 

The statute, not the proposed rule change, also requires that anyone consuming cannabis at a consumption area have a safe ride home. It’s still unclear who would be held liable for someone who leaves a consumption area and drives themselves. Medical Cannabis Program Director Dominick Zurlo said that is more of a legal question and out of the DOH’s purview. 

“One of the big issues of course is New Mexico is one of the states that has a huge issue with DUIs and we want to ensure people are able to get home safely,” Zurlo said.

Medical cannabis patient asks judge to allow cannabis on house arrest

An Albuquerque-based attorney, who also serves in the state Senate, wants a judge to weigh-in on whether those on house arrest should have access to medical cannabis. 

The attorney and state lawmaker Jacob Candelaria, on behalf of his client Joe Montaño, filed a writ of mandamus, or a request for a ruling, in state district court, asking a judge to order Bernalillo County to allow those in custody to use medical cannabis if they are part of the state’s program. 

In his court filing, Candelaria argued that Montaño has a right to “adequate and reasonable medical care” while in custody. Candelaria also argued that state law says, “Medical Cannabis shall be considered the equivalent of the use of any other medication under the direction of a physician and shall not be considered to constitute the use of an illicit substance,” and therefore his client should be allowed access to his medical cannabis. 

According to New Mexico’s Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, which was updated during last year’s legislative session, medical cannabis patients are protected—with some exceptions—from discrimination for using medical cannabis. When mentioning incarceration though, the law seems open to interpretation.    

“A person who is serving a period of probation or parole or who is in the custody or under the supervision of the state or a local government pending trial as part of a community supervision program shall not be penalized for conduct allowed under the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act.” NM Stat § 26-2B-10

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, sponsored the Senate bill that added sweeping changes to the state’s medical cannabis law. He previously told NM Political Report that the custody provision was aimed at those in pretrial services or those on probation or parole, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office agreed. 

Now Candelaria, who is also a medical cannabis patient, is challenging that thinking with the financial help of one of New Mexico’s more prominent medical cannabis producers, which is led by one of the state’s Medical Cannabis Program’s most vocal critics.

Shifting, filling legislative spots before session starts

A legislative appointment from the Bernalillo County Commission Tuesday marked the last vacancy to be filled before the upcoming legislative session. County commissioners voted unanimously to appoint Democrat Marian Matthews to fill a vacant spot left by Democrat Rep. William Pratt after he died last month. 

Matthews, a former prosecutor and college educator, announced late last year that she planned to run for Pratt’s seat since Pratt announced he would not run for election. Pratt himself was appointed to the seat after former Rep. Larry Larrañaga died in 2018. Pratt then won the general election that November. Matthews told commissioners she would like to address Albuquerque’s crime rate. 

The special meeting was the first for newly appointed commissioner James Collie, a Democrat who was sworn in just before the meeting started.

2019 Top Stories #3: Audit of state settlements

One of the big stories this year was the revelation of some high dollar settlements between former state employees and former Gov. Susana Martinez. The settlements made headlines partly because of how much taxpayers were on the hook for, but also because the terms of those settlements were supposed to be kept secret a lot longer than what the law requires. 

Just months after Martinez left office, KRQE-TV revealed that an employment discrimination lawsuit against Martinez and former State Police Chief Pete Kassetas was quietly settled in the final weeks of the governor’s adminsitration, with a three-year confidentiality period. 

Veteran readers of NM Political Report may recall the numerous stories we wrote last year about secret settlements. But the three year period the Martinez administration agreed to was well beyond the 180 days allowed by law. The settlement amounts and the longer than usual confidentiality period spurred Martinez’s own party to call her administration out as well. 

The settlements also spurred New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colón to look into the specifics, which he ultimately deemed an abuse of power. The state’s General Services Secretary Ken Ortiz also got involved as that department oversees settlements with state agencies. As soon as the 180-day period was up in each settlement, Ortiz’s office released specifics to the public.

2019 Top Stories #4: Efforts to legalize recreational cannabis

A major topic this year was cannabis legalization. Two different bills to legalize recreational cannabis this year failed to make it to the governor’s desk. But after the legislative session ended, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she would consider legalization during the 2020 session. She also convened a working group to come up with a proposal for legalization that addressed Lujan Grisham’s public safety concerns. 

That group, headed by Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, almost immediately faced criticism for not better representing medical cannabis patients. But Davis said he would be inclusive and transparent. 

The group included members from law enforcement, state departments and cannabis producers.

Judge finds state senator guilty of DWI, reckless driving

A district judge found state Sen. Richard Martinez guilty of driving while intoxicated and reckless driving on Tuesday. 

This past summer, Martinez, D-Española, was driving when he hit the car of a couple waiting at a stoplight in Española. After the state senator was taken to a hospital, police arrested him for DWI and reckless driving. 

The ruling on Tuesday came at the end of a two-day bench trial where Martinez’s lawyer, David Foster, argued that the arresting officer didn’t follow protocols for field sobriety tests and that signs of impairment by Martinez could have been from a head injury sustained in the crash. 

During their closing arguments, prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office argued that police lapel camera footage showed Martinez struggling with the sobriety tests and admitting that he had at least two alcoholic drinks that night. 

In that footage Martinez was inconsistent on how much he had to drink and about the type of drinks he had. Martinez refused any sort of breath test, and replied, “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me,” when the officer asked for his consent. Prosecutors argued that comment was a “consciousness of guilt.” 

“No one is above the law, not even a senator, not even this defendant,” one prosecutor told the judge. 

In his closing arguments, Foster criticized police for not following protocol and for inconsistencies in their reports. 

“How can you believe anything [the arresting officer] is saying?” Foster asked. 

He also criticized prosecutors for pointing out a dark spot on Martinez’s shorts that can barely be seen in the police footage. During the first day of trial, prosecutors argued that the dark spot was urine and a sign that Martinez was too intoxicated to drive a car.

Judge hears from victims, arresting officer on first day of Martinez DWI trial

A state lawmaker’s DWI bench trial started Monday morning in Santa Fe. The first day of the two-day trial focused largely on the testimony from two victims, the arresting officer and two doctors. 

Prosecutors charged state Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, of driving while intoxicated after he was involved in a crash last June. Martinez was arrested after he allegedly rear-ended a man in Española. Prosecutors on Monday argued that there was more than enough evidence to show that Martinez was intoxicated when the crash happened. Martinez’s lawyer spent the day mostly discrediting witnesses and arguing that signs of impairment could have been signs of a head injury. 

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office is trying the case as the Santa Fe district attorney recused himself from the case because Martinez has donated money to one of his campaigns. 

Martinez sat stoically as he listened to testimony from both the arresting officer and the man and woman who were involved in the crash. 

Johnny Sisneros, who says Martinez slammed into his car, testified that he was at a stoplight with his wife in the passenger seat when he was hit by Martinez’s car and described the impact as a “sudden boom.”

Then, Sisneros said, he was in immediate pain after his car was hit. 

“It was like an electric shock,” he said of his neck pain. 

He also testified that his injuries were bad enough to prevent him from playing with his granddaughter.  

“I was her play buddy,” Sisneros said. 

Now, Sisneros told the court, he can no longer jump on a trampoline with his granddaughter. 

“I can only sit there and watch her jump,” Sisneros said, holding back tears.

Protections for cannabis patients don’t extend to those on house arrest

Next month, the New Mexico Legislature is expected to consider legalizing recreational use cannabis. But many medical cannabis patients and patient advocates believe the state should solve problems with the state’s Medical Cannabis Program first. 

Many in the medical cannabis community have publicly expressed concerns about producer plant limits, social inequalities within the program and testing standards. But beyond those issues is the legal question of whether or not those who are incarcerated should be allowed to use medical cannabis with a medical professional’s recommendation. 

This year, New Mexico passed a sweeping bill that added protections for patients from getting fired or losing custody of their children to the state just for being a medical cannabis card holder. The new law also allows those in pretrial custody and those on probation or parole to use medical cannabis. Prior to the law passing, it was often left up to judges or probation and parole officers to make that decision.