Announcing our monthly cannabis newsletter

There’s little question, changes to cannabis laws—for both medical and recreational use—is a hot topic in New Mexico and nationwide. 

NM Political Report is committed to covering these issues and keeping the public up to date with what’s happening within the medical cannabis community and industry. 

The New Mexico Legislature, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel have made sweeping changes to medical cannabis laws. That means there is a lot of information to process. 

Additional rule changes to include more qualifying conditions, an increase in plant counts for producers and a new working group tasked by the governor to come up with a legalization proposal all add to that fire hose worth of information. So, we at NM Political Report would like to try and help you by streamlining our coverage along with cannabis news from around the country into a monthly newsletter. The newsletter will come out the last Monday of each month. Sign up below to make sure you get that monthly digest and stay up to date with cannabis news. 

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Emergency hemp rules to expedite production

About 150 people gathered in an Expo New Mexico building in Albuquerque on Wednesday to hear about rules for manufacturing, storing and extracting hemp products that go into effect next week. 

The meeting was the third, and final, part of a series of meetings the New Mexico Environment Department held over two weeks. 

Unlike most public meetings held by state departments on proposed rules or rule changes, the public was not given a chance to give input or suggest changes. Instead it was purely informational. 

“This meeting is for us to explain what the rules will be for the next six months in the state of New Mexico,” Hemp Program Manager Johnathan Gerhardt told the crowd. 

That’s because there’s hemp almost ready to be harvested in the state before rules to outline permit requirements or guidelines on how to label, transport or store it exist. So the department implemented emergency rules and invited stakeholders to come and ask questions. The informational meeting blitz began on July 16 and the emergency rules official go into effect on Aug. 1. 

Environmental Health Bureau Chief Bill Chavez told NM Political Report the department didn’t have enough time to go through a traditional rulemaking process after the legislature passed and the governor signed an industrial hemp bill. 

“We found out after the bill was signed that there was already growing of hemp occuring and it was going to be ready to be harvested and manufactured into products as early as August or September,” Chavez said. 

Everyone in the crowd stuck to the ground rules and only asked questions instead of issuing speeches to make their point. 

Smaller farmers have concerns

But not everyone could attend. 

Hemp farmer Bob Boylan, whose farm is about 30 miles east of Albuquerque, said he was too busy tending his crops to attend the meeting.

Should the state increase regulation of homegrown medical cannabis?

During a New Mexico Department of Health public hearing earlier this month that allowed public input into proposed rule changes to the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, a major player in the industry raised concerns with some patients. 

Willie Ford, managing director of the medical cannabis consulting company Reynold Greenleaf and Associates, told DOH officials he wanted more state oversight of patients who grow their own cannabis.   

“PPLs need more regulation, they need more oversight for public safety issues,” Ford said. “These are significant and serious issues that affect the general public and their safety.”

PPLs, or Personal Production Licenses, allow patients who qualify to grow up to four plants for their own use. He voice concern with a proposed rule change that would allow PPL holders to take their harvested cannabis to licensed manufacturers to produce extracts and concentrates. Four plants, Ford said, could equal about 20 pounds a year per PPL. 

Ford’s comments, and the online rebuttals from PPL patients that came after, highlight an issue that DOH will likely be forced to address, especially before New Mexico legalizes cannabis for recreational use: whether PPL patients should be regulated similar to Licensed Non-Profit Producers who sell products through their dispensaries. 

Josh McCurdy with the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Advocate Alliance told NM Political Report that he didn’t appreciate the suggestion that PPL patients are doing anything other than growing their own medicine, often in places where dispensaries are far and few between. 

“We need more competition,” McCurdy, who lives and grows his own cannabis in Ruidoso, said. “That’s the reason it’s $10 a gram in Albuquerque and it goes from $12 to $15 in rural areas.”

He estimated his homegrown cannabis costs about $5 to $6 a gram to grow. 

McCurdy disagreed with Ford’s claim that four plants harvested around 4 to five times a year could yield about 20 pounds. 

“I’ve been by a few hundred PPL grows in this state and 99 percent of them are struggling just to yield a couple of ounces every four months,” McCurdy said. 

McCurdy dismissed a common sentiment he said he’s heard from producers—that home growers contribute to illegal cannabis sales. 

“The producers have put it in a way, where they like to do some fear mongering and act like the PPLs are the illicit black market,” McCurdy said.

DOH puts non-resident’s medical cannabis applications on hold

The New Mexico Department of Health could face a legal challenge from one of its most prominent critics, who also runs a high profile medical cannabis dispensary. 

Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of New Mexico medical cannabis company Ultra Health, told NM Political Report that DOH “effectively denied” his application to become a medical cannabis patient in New Mexico. 

Rodriguez added the qualifier “effectively” because DOH did not officially deny his application, but did ask for more information. His application is officially on hold until he provides more documentation. 

“We have checked the documents you sent us and two items are needed,” a letter from DOH read. The two items missing were a valid New Mexico photo ID and a New Mexico address on his patient information form. 

The “effective” denial is the latest in a back-and-forth between the department and Rodriguez regarding whether or not non-residents of New Mexico can become a medical cannabis patient in New Mexico. 

In June, days before a change to the state’s medical cannabis law went into effect, Ultra Health bought radio ad space in southeastern New Mexico notifying listeners that New Mexico changed its law to allow non-residents the chance to become a medical cannabis patient. A bill signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in March, which made sweeping changes to the medical cannabis law, replaced the words “resident of New Mexico” with the word “person” in the definition of “qualified patient.” The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said the change was tied to a section that outlined regulations on reciprocity for other states with medical cannabis programs. The law changes allow for medical cannabis patients from other states to use their respective cards to obtain medical cannabis in New Mexico.

DOH hears public input on medical cannabis changes

The New Mexico Department of Health on Friday heard public testimony from medical cannabis patients, patient advocates and cannabis producers about proposed changes to the Medical Cannabis Program. More than 30 people shared their thoughts about a new proposed plant limit, increased producer fees and extending the life of patients’ medical cannabis cards. 

While almost all of the speakers addressed the specific rule changes, many also brought up a barrage of other issues like oversight of those who hold a Personal Production License and grow their own cannabis, opening the licensure for more producers and more testing of cannabis for contaminants or pesticides.  

The divergence from issues published in the proposed rule change seemed to show that some in the medical cannabis community don’t feel like they are being heard by the Department of Health. 

Former Department of Health chief records officer Daniel Jacobs told NM Political Report that previous department leadership is partly to blame. Jacobs retired from DOH shortly after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office. He said throughout the eight years of Susana Martinez’s time as governor, the Medical Cannabis Program and DOH shut itself off from the public. 

“For the last nine years we’ve been under an administration of exclusion,” Jacobs said. “We [now] have a governor who is about inclusion and she’s going to move the state forward and the program forward to benefit everybody, not just a select few.” 

Jacobs said he was recruited to work in the department by then-cabinet secretary Lujan Grisham under then-Gov. Bill Richardson. 

Medical Cannabis Program Director Kenny Vigil said DOH and Medical Cannabis Program staff hear from patients about twice a year when the board meets to discuss adding qualifying conditions to the program. 

“One of the things we can certainly do better at is improving dialogue with patients,” Vigil said.

Cannabis working group chair vows to be inclusive, transparent

In its inaugural meeting, a group tasked by New Mexico’s governor to come up with ideas to safely and efficiently legalize recreational use cannabis in the state discussed the process for which it will follow in the next several months. 

The Working Group on Cannabis Legalization for New Mexico consists of about 20 people with varying backgrounds, including medical cannabis producers, medical cannabis patients and state departments. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham picked the members of the group. 

Lujan Grisham’s senior policy advisor Dominic Gabello told members he is confident the group will be able to address the many concerns related to legalizing cannabis in New Mexico. 

“We’ve put this together and I think we’ve got a good plan moving forward to discuss this and really figure out, how do we find the right path forward for New Mexico,” Gabello said. Some medical cannabis patients and producers previously raised their concerns about adequate patient representation in the group. Before Wednesday’s meeting, there was no patients in the group, but patient advocate Heath Grider was ultimately added. “I believe that everyone is doing their best to include us,” Grider said just after Wednesday’s meeting. 

But, he said, the group can still use more voices, particularly from patients and businesses who might be impacted by legalization. 

The group’s chair, Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, told NM Political Report there will be more opportunities in the next eight planned meetings to include community stakeholders from across the state, including Native American tribal members and leaders and residents in rural areas. 

“All those meetings are public and they can add comments ahead of time online,” Davis said. 

Davis also said the group’s website will allow members of the public to see what each member thinks about a specific issue related to legalization. 

“You’ll see who dissented and what the vote was,” Davis said. 

And even though the group’s website is not an official state site, Davis said the whole process will be transparent and encouraged members to be aware of that . 

“Assume everything you write down is public record,” Davis told the group before the meeting. 

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, who co-sponsored a bill last legislative session to legalize cannabis and establish state-run dispensaries, is also part of the group.

Patients want a voice in group planning for cannabis legalization

Since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a task force to study possible cannabis legalization measures last month, some in the medical cannabis community expressed concerns about proper representation. 

The Cannabis Legalization Working Group, the governor’s office said, will work this year and send their recommendations to Lujan Grisham before next year’s 30-day legislative session. Lujan Grisham announced earlier this year that she would add legalizing cannabis for adult recreational use to the call next year. In even numbered years, all legislation related to budgetary matters are considered “germane”, but the governor can give permission for legislators to discuss other issues. 

Some medical cannabis patients and patient advocates have long warned lawmakers of passing legalization proposals that might harm the medical cannabis program. Now, at least one patient and even medical cannabis producers are scratching their heads wondering why the Cannabis Legalization Working Group does not include actual patients. 

Patients want a seat at the table

Ginger Grider is a medical cannabis patient and works with the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Advocate Alliance. Grider, who lives in Portales, said rural parts of the state regularly see shortages or outages in local dispensaries.

After two years of sanctuary in ABQ church basement, Iraqi refugee can go home

A stressful two-year chapter of Kadhim Albumohammed’s life is coming to a close. 

Since July 2017, Albumohammed lived, along with his wife and daughter, in the basement of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Albuquerque. On Wednesday afternoon, he addressed a crowd of about two hundred supporters after he learned that he can finally leave and go home without the fear of being detained by federal agents. 

“I love you guys,” Albumohammed told the crowd. 

Two years ago he showed up for an appointment with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, fully expecting to be detained. But, because of demonstrations by supporters, ICE cancelled Albumohammed’s appointment. But at his next scheduled appointment, Albumohammed’s lawyer showed up with a letter stating that her client decided to seek sanctuary instead. Albumohammed immigrated to the U.S. from Iraq out of fear of retaliation after supporting the U.S. during the first Gulf War.

NM medical cannabis producer implores DOH to reverse stance on non-resident medical cards

A high-profile New Mexico medical cannabis producer still maintains a recent change in the wording of the state’s medical cannabis law means non-residents should be able to become patients. Brian Egolf, an attorney for medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, sent a six-page letter arguing that point to Medical Cannabis Program director Kenny Vigil on Wednesday. Egolf is also New Mexico’s Speaker of the House. In the letter, Egolf outlined five reasons why the state should allow non-residents to become patients in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program, including a straightforward reading of the law, the fact that other state programs include non-residents, that state law prohibits transporting cannabis across state lines and that the Department of Health cannot override state law. A DOH spokesman said the department received the letter late in the day on Wednesday and was still reviewing it at publication time.

ABQ city council votes down ranked-choice voting

Albuquerque will not become the latest city in the state to adopt ranked-choice voting. The Albuquerque City Council voted 5-4 Monday night against implementing a ranked-choice voting system in time for the next municipal election in November. Ranked-choice voting is also known as instant-runoff, and is a process in which voters ranked their choices of candidates. In a ranked-choice election, if no candidate gets a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated from the list and voters who chose that candidate have their second choice counted. That process continues until there is a winner with the majority of the votes.