At age 18, I attended a party where police found tiny amounts of marijuana. Without funds for an attorney, I accepted “deferred probation.” It has followed me my entire life. I graduated from college, law, and graduate school, yet I had to endure a hearing to ascertain my fitness to practice. It also caused employment rejection. Later as assistant county attorney in El Paso and elected district attorney in Willacy County, Texas, I routinely dismissed pot cases.
With Democrats back in full control of the New Mexico legislature, marijuana policy reform will likely continue gaining traction in 2017. Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, has sponsored his version of a legalization bill since 2015, only to see it die before a committee ever hears it. McCamley has vowed to continue introducing the legislation as to keep the discussion going, even with a governor who opposes marijuana legalization. “It’s not an academic exercise anymore,” McCamley said of legalization bills in the upcoming 2017 session. Gov. Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor, has long been a critic of marijuana legalization and said she would veto any measures to do so.
In his latest batch of commutations, Barack Obama commuted the sentence of someone with New Mexico ties arrested for a drug offense, the third time he’s done so in the last 13 months. Obama announced the commutations of sentences to 111 individuals Monday, bringing his total to 673 commutations, more than the last 10 presidents combined. This was Obama’s second big batch of commutations, largely for nonviolent drug offenses, this month. Earlier this month, Obama commuted the sentence of Jose Carlos Arras Jr. of Albuquerque. Arras was convicted in 2002 of transporting more than 200 pounds of marijuana with the intent to sell.
TAOS — Medical cannabis patients, producers and advocates met with a legislative committee Monday afternoon to discuss issues New Mexico’s medical marijuana program. About 50 people gathered in the Taos County Commission Chambers for a Legislative Health & Human Services Committee for an opportunity to hear from New Mexico Department of Health Secretary-Designate Lynn Gallagher regarding patient card wait times, provider plant limits and organizational issues within the department. Gallagher defended the program, which has been under fire for long wait times for medical cannabis cards, and told legislators her department was making progress in improving the medical cannabis program by increasing plant limits and how much marijuana patients can possess. “We’re not perfect but we are moving in a forward, positive direction,” Gallagher told lawmakers. The entire committee meeting lasted more than five hours and only covered medical marijuana, but in the last hour, lawmakers asked pointed questions about the program and Gallagher’s plans for the future.
Despite a city ordinance that calls for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, Santa Fe police officers are still arresting people and sending them to jail for possession. That’s according to a review by the Santa Fe Reporter, nearly two years after the city council passed the ordinance and 15 months after the ordinance was implemented. The officers are instead using the state law, which still calls for arrests and jail time, to make the arrests. The decriminalization calls for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana to be punishable by a $25 fine; the state law, however calls for up to a $100 fine for a first-time offender and up to 15 days in jail. A second offense, again for one ounce or less, could cost the offender $1,000 and up to one year in jail.
The state Department of Health was in the hot seat at an interim legislative committee meeting—despite the fact no one from the department was actually in the room. The interim Disabilities Concerns Subcommittee met with a number of people involved with the state’s medical cannabis program. The topic of discussion was the renewal and issuance of patient cards. No representative from DOH showed up, even though the department oversees the program. The committee’s vice chair, Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, expressed her concern that DOH was unable to send anyone to speak about the delays many patients are seeing when applying for medical cannabis cards.
Darren White’s view on marijuana changed drastically in the past two decades. Nearly 20 years ago, he resigned from then-Gov. Gary Johnson’s administration after Johnson backed marijuana legalization. Now, White not only backs Johnson, he’s come around to Johnson’s point of view on marijuana legalization (with some caveats). Related: See why White is backing Johnson for president
White isn’t alone among Republicans (yes, White remains a Republican despite backing the Libertarian Party nominee for president). A recently-released poll by YouGov found that a narrow plurality of Republicans back marijuana legalization: 45 percent to 42 percent.
State Auditor Tim Keller wants answers from the state Department of Health for delays in the processing of cards for medical cannabis program patients. In a letter to DOH Secretary-designate Lynn Gallagher sent yesterday, Keller writes that that his office will audit the department’s compliance with the legally-required 30-day waiting period for processing applications of new and returning medical cannabis patients. Patients are required to renew their cards every year. As NM Political Report and other news outlets have recently reported, thousands of patients are waiting as much as two or three times the required time period to receive their card, despite a state statute requiring the department to process applications in no longer than 30 days. Patients waiting in the limbo period aren’t legally allowed to buy cannabis, even if they were members of the program and have been prescribed cannabis by their doctors.
Jason Barker has been a medical cannabis patient in New Mexico for the past year and a half. His qualifications for the state program amount to his complex posttraumatic stress disorder diagnoses, a condition he said developed after being molested as a child, dealing with physical abuse as an adult and working as an EMT in South Carolina. When his PTSD symptoms get bad, Barker said he usually avoids the outside world “because things become that hard to deal with.”
Related: DOH gets warned about medical marijuana delays
This happened earlier this year when the state Department of Health, which administers the program, delayed Barker’s renewal in the program for 58 days total and 28 days after its expiration. State law requires each medical cannabis patient renew their cards every year, though that waiting period is supposed to last one month at most. The waiting time made Barker unable to legally purchase cannabis, putting him in what he called “a legal grey area.”
During the time Barker didn’t have access to cannabis, his PTSD symptoms kicked back into gear.
The New Mexico State Auditor’s Office called on two state agencies to look into a medical cannabis executive director who is accused of a conflict of interest related to audits. In letters to the Department of Health and the Public Accountancy Board, a group within the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department that oversees public accountants, the state Auditor’s office expressed concern that Vivian Moore, a certified public accountant, may have created a conflict of interest by conducting independent audits of medical cannabis producers. This is because Moore also is the executive director of Doña Ana County-based Mother Earth Herbs, Inc.
Mother Earth Herbs, Inc. is a medical marijuana distributor licensed by the state. The letters came from Special Investigations Director Kevin Sourisseau. Sourisseau wrote that his office was made aware of “independence issues” concerning Moore and the audits she has allegedly performed for other producers.