April 10, 2017

Court rules med pot producer won’t have to shut down for five days

A prominent Albuquerque medical cannabis producer will not have to shut its doors next week during what he says is one of his busiest days of the year.

This comes after Santa Fe Judge David Thompson ruled Monday that Ultra Health must pay a $100 fine for bringing a cannabis seedling plant to the New Mexico State Fair last year. But Ultra Health will not have to close down for five days, as the state originally ordered to punish the medical cannabis producer for putting the plant on public display.

The ruling comes after a nearly seven-month long legal battle between the company and the New Mexico Department of Health.

Ultra Health brought a non flowering cannabis plant to the New Mexico State Fair in September 2016 and was quickly told to remove it by fair officials.

The Department of Health soon sanctioned Ultra Health with a five-day shutdown and a $100 fine. Ultra Health was originally told to close down last November and unsuccessfully appealed the decision administratively. The department then moved the shutdown dates to April 17 to April 21.

Thompson ruled that if Ultra Health closed down for five days, the company could see irreparable harm for potentially wasted product. He added that if an appellate court were to overturn the decision after Ultra Health shut down for five days, there was no way for the medical marijuana provider to go back and reopen its doors. But Thompson wrote that the state was correct in sanctioning Ultra Health for bringing a plant to the fair.

“The Court certainly agrees the Department has a justified purpose in ensuring seedlings that are part of a capped inventory are not marketing ploys but medicine,” Thompson wrote.

Thompson called the decision to display a plant in public “at the very best misguided.”

In a statement, Ultra Health President and CEO Duke Rodriguez praised Thompson’s decision, but also took aim at the Department of Health.

“We continue to advocate on behalf of the patients in the Medical Cannabis Program, thousands of which have made it clear Ultra Health is their preferred medical cannabis provider, even with the level of scrutiny and harassment we have experienced from NMDOH,” Rodriguez said.

Willie Ford, who runs the medical cannabis management and consulting company Reynold Greenleaf and Associates and is a business adversary of Rodriguez, criticized Thompson’s ruling.

“As an organization and a member of the medical cannabis community and industry I’m saddened to see the Department of Health has had its hands tied behind its back,” Ford said.

Bringing a plant outside of a production facility, Ford said, constitutes a major infraction in his view and the department should be able to issue a major punishment.

“[The department] has pretty much been neutered at this point,” Ford said.

In court last week, Ultra Health attorney Brian Egolf, who also serves as speaker of the  New Mexico House of Representatives, argued the proposed sanction would have closed Ultra Health’s doors on one of the busy days of the year, April 20, a date commonly known to marijuana enthusiasts as 420.

“Internationally, April 20, or 420, has become recognized as a holiday for cannabis advocacy and celebration,” Ultra Health’s press release read.

Thompson did not specify when Ultra Health must pay the monetary fine but referred to the previous hearing officer’s determination, which was to pay $100 by April 17.