Two ABQ council races likely headed for a runoff election

Voters in several municipalities across New Mexico voted Tuesday, marking the first consolidation of elections under a new state law. 

Albuquerque voters picked city council candidates, school board members and voted on a long list of municipal bonds. Albuquerque voters also weighed-in on two campaign finance propositions — one was for a voucher program for publicly financed candidates and the other was a proposal to increase funds for publicly financed candidates. 

But one of the closely watched races in Albuquerque was in the city’s District 2, where incumbent Isaac Benton ran against five other challengers. Benton failed to clear 50 percent, and will face Zack Quintero in a run-off election next month. 

The contention between the two seemed to overshadow the rest of the candidates as a measure finance committee—the city’s version of a political action committee—which supported  Benton ran a series of mailers accusing Quintero of misrepresenting his work history. One of those mailers had a picture of Quintero superimposed on the body of a cook, with the words, “ZACK QUINTERO DIDN’T INVENT CHRISTMAS ENCHILADAS.” The mailer was one of a series that accused Quintero of inflating his job responsibilities while working for the City of Santa Fe. The series of mailers also included one with Quintero’s face superimposed on the body of an astronaut. 

The unofficial results on Tuesday night showed Quintero with about 20 percent of the vote and Benton with about 42 percent.

Legislators could strip school districts of discretion over medical cannabis in schools

Some state lawmakers are ready to remove school districts’ discretion over how medical cannabis is administered to students who are medical cannabis patients. 

The issue of how and when approved students can get their medicine has been divisive and controversial at times. But this year New Mexico became one of about a dozen states to allow some students to consume cannabis at school. Unlike other states, New Mexico’s law left some decisionmaking up to school districts. That local control has stirred additional controversy and caused some confusion amongst lawmakers. Some of those lawmakers say school districts abused that privilege. 

State law allows districts to come up with their own policies for medical cannabis, including limitations on who administers the medical cannabis.

Legislator proposes temporary weapon confiscation from those who pose a danger to the public

Earlier this month, Seattle police confiscated a cache of firearms from alleged neo-Nazi leader Kaleb James Cole after a county court named him in an Extreme Risk Protection Order. Police argued Cole posed a threat to the public and were therefore able to take his guns under a relatively new type of law—often referred to as a red flag law. 

Cole served as an example Wednesday afternoon in Santa Fe as the legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee heard a pitch from Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, about enacting a similar law in New Mexico. Although, it’s unlikely Ely and other supporters will be using the term “red flag.”     

“I’ve been trained not to use that term, but it is the same thing,” Ely said, adding that mental health professionals prefer not to use the term. 

Ely said he used Cole as an example because it shows “The value of an extreme risk protection order.”

Ely’s Extreme Risk Protection Order Act would allow police to temporarily confiscate weapons from individuals a court has deemed a potential danger. The Albuquerque lawmaker said the proposal is similar to a bill he cosponsored during the 2019 legislative session. 

“This is a bill that allows law enforcement or household members to petition a court, and with evidence, convince a court that a person is an imminent threat,” he told the committee. 

Ely’s proposal was met with mostly support by committee members, but the sole Republican in attendance had some issues with the standards the courts and police would use to determine if someone is a threat. 

Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said he could understand legal intervention for someone making “a credible threat on the internet,” but was concerned about the burden of proof in Ely’s proposal. 

“I think you need to use the highest standard if you’re going to deny a person a constitutional right,” Rehm said. 

But Ely argued a person’s right to own a gun would not be violated. 

“We’re not taking guns away forever, we’re not locking people up, we’re trying to save lives,” Ely said. 

Under the proposal, if a person is deemed by a court to be a danger and their guns are taken away, they would have the opportunity to argue their case in a court hearing. If no further action is taken after the initial confiscation, Ely said, the guns would be returned.

Cannabis producer says state is pricing out smaller producers, limiting access to medicine

Dueling press releases over medical cannabis fees show the continuing, contentious relationship between a medical cannabis producer and the New Mexico Department of Health. The producer, Ultra Health, has long argued, often in court, that state mandated plant limits for producers should be higher. 

In a press release issued last week, Ultra Health argued that even with the latest plant increase to 1,750, the state’s fee structure discourages producers from growing the maximum amount of plants. Making it harder for producers to grow the maximum amount of plants, Ultra Health argued, will impact patients.  

“Under the new fee schedule, it will be impossible for all producers to meet the 1,750 maximum and cultivate an adequate supply of medicine for patients,” the Ultra Health release read. 

The DOH recently changed fees for producers to a graduated structure. The cost per plant significantly increases for producers after 1,000. According to Ultra Health’s data, only 12 of the 34 licensed producers paid $180,000 for the maximum 1,750 plants.

A look at ABQ city council candidates

Saturday marks the start of expanded early voting in Albuquerque’s city council election. 

NM Political Report reached out to all of the candidates listed on the city clerk’s website and asked them all the same questions. Their answers were submitted over email and every candidate had about 48 hours to respond. 

District 2

District 2 is the most crowded of the four council races. Incumbent Isaac Benton is defending his seat against five other candidates. The district includes all of downtown, the historic Barelas and Martinez Town neighborhoods and creeps north almost to Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.  

Isaac Benton 

Name: Isaac Benton

Occupation: Full-time City Councilor, retired architect 

What should be the council’s number one priority for the city as a whole? Reducing crime should continue to be our top priority.  Today, we are rebuilding APD and for the first time in six years we have more than 1,000 officers, with 200 more slated by 2021.

Dept. of Health proposes rules for medical cannabis consumption areas, patient reciprocity

The New Mexico Department of Health has proposed a list of rule changes for the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, which would add guidelines for designated “consumption areas” and reciprocity for medical cannabis patients enrolled in medical cannabis programs in other states. 

After major changes to the state’s medical cannabis law made during the 2019 legislative session, the law now states that a consumption area is, “an area within a licensed premises approved by the department where cannabis may be consumed that complies with rule as established by the department.” 

The department’s proposed changes would require consumption areas to be “located on the premises of licensed non-profit producers” and medical cannabis patients who use cannabis in said areas to have a designated driver or use “other lawful means of transportation” when leaving. 

If the rule is finalized by the DOH Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel, medical cannabis producers who want to open a consumption area would be required to submit safety and security plans to the department for approval. Only existing producers would be able to apply to open consumption areas.  

The department has also proposed a rule that would outline reciprocity for medical cannabis patients from outside New Mexico. Not to be confused with a change in law that allows non-residents of New Mexico to enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, reciprocity would allow patients already enrolled in another state’s medical cannabis program to buy and consume cannabis in New Mexico without having to enroll in the program. A reciprocal patient would only need to provide identification and a medical cannabis card from their home state to purchase up to about 8 ounces of dried cannabis flower or corresponding extracts in a rolling three month period, which is consistent with what New Mexico cannabis patients can buy. Dispensaries would be required to enter reciprocal patient information in a DOH-run patient tracking system. 

Other changes include a new fee structure and new testing standards for medical cannabis producers.

Mixed responses to suggestions from marijuana legalization work group

A group convened by the governor and tasked with crafting a framework for cannabis legalization released their full recommendations on Wednesday. 

Many of the recommendations from the Marijuana Legalization Work group are either consistent with or similar to legislation introduced in the 2019 legislative session. Those include protecting the medical cannabis program and its patients, giving law enforcement tools to test for cannabis use and giving New Mexicans—even those with criminal drug charges from the past—opportunities to get involved in the cannabis industry. 

Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, sponsored a cannabis legalization bill earlier this year and told NM Political Report that he will sponsor another version next year based on the work group’s recommendations. Martinez’s bill was eventually combined with a competing Senate bill that proposed state-run cannabis stores. Neither of those bills made it to the governor’s desk and there’s no guarantee another proposal will get any farther in the legislative process unchanged, Martinez said.   

“There’s 112 very unique voices in the legislature, so I’m sure as we go through that process improvements will be made,” he said. “We’ll see what we end up with, but two things I think are the foundation of this framework.

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.