September 2, 2015

Green and White: Former sheriff wants in on medical marijuana

Medical marijuana prescription

A former sheriff who previously lobbied against medical marijuana in New Mexico now wants a piece of the weed pie.


Darren White at a 2008 John McCain rally Photo Credit: Robotclaw666 via cc

Darren White, whose law enforcement credentials include stints as cabinet secretary for the Department of Public Safety, Bernalillo County Sheriff and public safety director for the City of Albuquerque, is one of eight names serving as a board of director with Purlife, which filed an application with the state to open a medical marijuana nonprofit.

White’s name came up in a database of medical marijuana applicants published this week by the Santa Fe Reporter.

A listing on the Secretary of State’s website shows a May 2014 incorporation date for Purlife and lists its “character of affairs” as “conducting medical marijuana sales in New Mexico.” White is listed as one of eight directors of the company.

The state Department of Health, which runs the Medical Cannabis Program, announced this week that it narrowed a pool of 86 applicants for new medical marijuana producer licenses to 17 finalists. It’s unclear if Purlife made the cut, or even how many new licenses the state will grant—in an email, health department spokesman Kenny Vigil called the applications “confidential.” Currently, 23 medical marijuana producers operate in New Mexico.

Past opposition to medical marijuana

White’s previous public statements and actions against marijuana reform have been extensive—in 1999 he resigned as Department of Public Safety cabinet secretary after Republican Governor Gary Johnson announced that he was in favor of legalizing marijuana.

As recently as 2007, when medical marijuana became legal in New Mexico, White was vehemently opposed to it.

Medical marijuana prescription

Medical marijuana prescription

“I’ve never supported medical marijuana,” White said according to the Albuquerque Tribune at the time. “I’m very sympathetic to the patients – I watched my father die of cancer, and it’s the most difficult thing in the world – but I don’t think you have to smoke marijuana to gain the comfort and relief that’s provided by the THC.”

In 2002, as executive director of Protect New Mexico, White lobbied against both a medical marijuana bill and Johnson’s effort to decriminalize marijuana. When the state Legislature rejected Johnson’s decriminalization bill, White told the Albuquerque Journal it was “a victory to our children and our neighborhoods.”

On a 2002 medical marijuana bill, White told the Albuquerque Journal at the time that the issue needed more research.

Before then, White even filmed a rock music video where he sang “Just Say No” in a police uniform in front of several kids.

New Mexico Political Report left a voicemail with and emailed White’s private investigator firm Wednesday morning. We’ll update this story if we hear back from him.

Former boss blasts White

Former Gov. Gary Johnson called White’s move “hypocritical” in an interview with New Mexico Political Report, pointing out that White once got paid to lobby against the marijuana industry and now is trying to make money from it.

“In my opinion there is nothing more inexcusable than hypocrisy,” Johnson said.  “It is the one thing that there is no salvation for.”

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via cc

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via cc

Johnson recalled how he previously tried to get White to see his point of view on legalization.

“I took him to Washington D.C. to meet with arguably the leading expert regarding the issue,” he said. “Then in a very high profile move, he announced he was quitting the administration.”

White’s announcement came on the same day as a marijuana summit being held in New Mexico, according to Johnson.

Johnson argued that if White has since changed his mind on medical marijuana, he should have made a public announcement.

“Where is the press conference to say, ‘This what I believed yesterday and this is what I believe today?’” Johnson asked.

Johnson himself makes money off of marijuana; he is the CEO of Cannabis Sativa Inc., a company that seeks to sell medical marijuana products in states where medicinal use is legal.

Gov. opposed medical marijuana

White is an ally of Gov. Susana Martinez and frequently writes Twitter posts blasting anything critical of her administration. He appeared in a 2010 Martinez campaign ad as a sheriff.

Martinez ran that year opposed to the state’s medical marijuana program. Last year, she later voiced disapproval of decriminalizing marijuana possession. Earlier this year, Martinez vetoed a bill that would have allowed hemp cultivation for research purposes.

Another high-profile name in the list of directors for Purlife, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s website, is Jason Bowles. Bowles helped defend former New Mexico Treasurer Robert Vigil in 2006 when Vigil faced corruption charges. Vigil would go on to serve 26 months in federal prison and was later released on probation in 2009.

More recently, Bowles defended an Albuquerque man who was ultimately sentenced to 15 months in prison for drug trafficking.

The address for Purlife listed on the Secretary of State’s website is the same as the address for Bowles’ law firm.

New Mexico Political Report spoke with Bowles on the phone and he said he couldn’t comment on the structure or details of Purlife, but that he personally thinks medical marijuana can be helpful for numerous medical conditions and said he “was all for it.”

Matthew Reichbach contributed to this report. 

UPDATE: A comment from Bowles was added to this story.