Court throws out challenge of Libertarian congressional candidate

A New Mexico state district judge ruled on Thursday that a Libertarian candidate for Congress will remain on the ballot for the June 1 special election to fill a 1st Congressional District vacancy. 

Santa Fe judge Glenn Ellington ruled from the bench that claims challenging the validity of the Libertarian Party of New Mexico’s major party status were not sufficient enough to remove the party’s candidate from a special election ballot. 

Chris Manning is the state’s Libertarian Party nominee for the special congressional election to fill the vacant seat after former congresswoman Deb Halaand was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Interior. Ginger Grider and James Clayton, both members of the Libertarian Party of New Mexico filed a legal challenge, arguing that the Libertarian Party should not have been granted major party status and that the party broke its own rules by nominating Manning. Ellington ruled Grider and Clayton did not have standing to challenge the Libertarian Party’s major party status and that her claim that Manning was nominated against the party’s rules was not substantial enough to move the case forward. 

Grider and Clayton’s attorney, Blair Dunn, told NM Political Report that he plans to appeal Ellington’s ruling and accused the court of being steeped in partisan politics. 

“We’re concerned that the court system is continuing to prop up the party system and the denial of standing to members of the party, and denying them even the opportunity to present the evidence is part of why political parties have become such a problem in this country,” Dunn said. 

Dunn’s father Aubrey Dunn is also running for the 1st Congressional District seat, but as an independent candidate. Aubrey Dunn’s campaign ads position him as a candidate tired of partisan politics. Dylan Lange, general counsel for the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office, praised the court’s decision in a statement on Thursday. 

“We are pleased that the Court’s ruling affirms that the Secretary of State’s Office appropriately followed the law,” Lange said. 

Manning also said he was pleased with Ellington’s decision and that he’s ready to move on and focus on his campaign.  

“I’m glad the judge saw what we saw and this case had no merit,” Manning said. 

The crux of Grider and Clayton’s challenge of the Libertarian Party’s major party status was that no Libertarian received at least five percent of the vote in the last general election.

NM’s congressional race is on a tight deadline

In about three weeks, registered voters in the 1st Congressional District can start casting ballots to fill the vacant seat. The rushed and non-traditional nature of this election could prove difficult for the candidates. 

Complicating issues, the state is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic that emerged last year, meaning candidates may not see the normal kind of campaign rally turn-out and some will likely not hold in-person rallies at all. Of the candidates for the Albuquerque-area seat that NM Political Report spoke to, only one cited the expedited timeline as a possible challenge to their campaign. Others anticipated their biggest challenges will be getting the word out about their campaigns and raising money. 

Melanie Stansbury, who currently serves as a Democratic legislator in the New Mexico House of Representatives, said the short election period may end up being her biggest challenge. 

“It is a scramble to get out the vote and help educate the public to know that a special election is happening, to introduce ourselves to the broader community and make sure that people know the election is happening and when and how to vote,” Stansbury said. 

Stansbury is currently serving her second term in the state Legislature, but previously worked in the White House as well as a U.S. Senate staffer. 

Republican candidate Mark Moores also serves in the Legislature, as a state senator. Despite numerous scheduling attempts from NM Political Report, Moores could not be reached for an interview. 

Aubrey Dunn, who is running as an independent candidate, seemed to agree that getting people out to vote would also be a challenge, but he said he thinks his biggest challenge will be fundraising.

Medical cannabis producers call for increased plant limits

Just days after New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a recreational-use cannabis bill into law and less than 90 days before the law goes into effect, some in the existing medical cannabis industry want state officials to immediately increase the amount of cannabis they can grow. 

A group of five New Mexico medical cannabis producers sent a letter with their concerns about the rollout of recreational-use cannabis to the heads of the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department and the state’s Department of Health. The letter from the medical cannabis producers said that even after the law goes into effect, a lack of new promulgated rules could result in increased medical sales, which, the producers argued, could also mean a shortage of medical cannabis for existing patients. 

“Therefore, the undersigned producers request that DOH and RLD raise the plant limitation until the full commercial market can be phased in,” the letter reads. The group of producers calling for an increase in allowed plants include Ultra Health, which has long called for an increase in medical cannabis production limits or no limits at all, and Sacred Garden, which is currently involved in a legal battle with the state over gross receipts taxes on medical cannabis. The other three producers who signed onto the letter are G&G Genetics, Budding Hope and Kure. 

The Department of Health oversees the current Medical Cannabis Program. Regulation and Licensing will oversee all but the medical cannabis patient registry after the law goes into effect on June 29. 

In their letter, the producers reasoned that after June 29, existing Department of Health rules for purchase limits will be invalid.

Governor signs cannabis legalization into law

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday signed two bills that, together, legalize the use and possession of cannabis and expunge previous cannabis related criminal records. 

“This legislation is a major, major step forward for our state,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “Legalized adult-use cannabis is going to change the way we think about New Mexico for the better – our workforce, our economy, our future. We’re ready to break new ground. We’re ready to invest in ourselves and the limitless potential of New Mexicans. And we’re ready to get to work in making this industry a successful one.”  

The New Mexico Legislature passed HB 2 and SB 2 last month during a special session.

NM medical cannabis revocation hearings blocked from the public

Last October, the Santa Fe Fire Department responded to an explosion at a well-known medical cannabis manufacturing facility. Besides being an early medical cannabis producer and manufacturer, the company, New Mexicann, experienced a similar explosion in 2015. Both instances reportedly resulted in employee injuries, but the latest explosion also resulted in a criminal complaint against New Mexicann’s executive director and reportedly a revocation hearing with the New Mexico Department of Health. 

But while the criminal proceedings against the company’s director are open to the public, Department of Health rules require that medical cannabis license revocation hearings be closed to the public. 

According to the criminal complaint against New Mexicann’s director Carlos Gonzales, the explosion last October was caused by a cannabis extraction process that the company was not licensed for. There are a variety of cannabis extraction processes, but in many instances the process involves volatile and flammable solvents. According to court records, state fire investigators found what appeared to be ethanol alcohol near a hotplate that was set to 500 degrees.

Gary Johnson reacts to Legislature passing cannabis legalization bill

Pending a signature from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico is set to become the latest state to fully legalize cannabis. And while the state has received an abundance of national attention for the feat, some may have forgotten or overlooked the national attention a former governor garnered more than two decades ago for his, then-controversial, stance that cannabis should be legalized. 

In the late 1990s, then-Gov. Gary Johnson, at the time a Republican, made national headlines for advocating for full legalization of cannabis, nearly seven years before the state would legalize medical-use cannabis and more than a decade before Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational-use cannabis. 

Since leaving office after his second term as governor, Johnson twice ran for president and once for U.S. Senate as a Libertarian. 

Johnson told NM Political Report that he’s not one to say, “I told you so,” but that he is proud of being an early advocate for full legalization. “I do take pride, and I would not mind my obituary, if anybody runs it, saying that ‘This was the highest elected official in the country to call for marijuana legalization for about 15 years,’” he said. “I mean, I think I held that title for about 15 years.”

Lujan Grisham called for a special session, in part, to legalize adult-use cannabis and expunge prior cannabis related criminal records. 

Much of the criticism from Republicans during the special session was that New Mexico is just not ready to legalize. But others, namely Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, argued that specifics of the cannabis industry should be left to the free market and not overly regulated by the state.

New Mexico approves landmark recreational-use cannabis bill

New Mexico is slated to be the 18th state to legalize recreational-use cannabis and the fifth state to do so legislatively. 

HB 2, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Albuquerque and three other legislators, sped through multiple committee hearings and Senate and House Floor debates in less than two days. The rushed effort was part of the special legislative session called by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, just days after the regular 60-day session. 

Lujan Grisham, in a statement on Wednesday, praised the bill’s sponsors and called the passage of legalization a “breakthrough.”

“As New Mexicans know, I have advocated and pushed and negotiated for this measure, and I am immensely proud and humbled to have seen it through,” Lujan Grisham said. “But that feeling is dwarfed by the gratitude I feel for the well-informed advocates, to the community members from all across the state–urban and rural, from every region–who have been committed to lobbying for this, to the leaders in the Legislature who helped us cross this major threshold.”

The new law will allow adults 21 and older to personally possess up to two ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of cannabis extract or 800 milligrams of edibles. A person can have more than that, but it must be locked in a safe place at home. Adults 21 and older can also grow up to six mature plants. Licensed sales will begin no later than April 2022 and the state will begin issuing business licenses by January 2022.

House cannabis legalization bill passes two committees, heads to the floor

A cannabis legalization bill passed two committees, one on Tuesday afternoon and the other during the early hours of Wednesday morning. It’s slated for a floor debate next 

HB 2, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, along with three other lawmakers, first passed the House Taxation and Revenue Committee Tuesday evening on a 8-4 vote. Then the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee early Tuesday morning by a 7-4 vote. Both votes were along party lines, with no Republicans voting for the bill and all Democrats voting in favor. 

HB 2 is an altered version of a previous bill Martínez and Romero sponsored during the regular 60-day session and much of the debate and comments were also similar. 

During the first hearing, Martínez took a moment to point out that this proposal has been in the works for years and has seen hours of debate.    

“The bill before you, Madam Chairman, members of the committee, has been written and rewritten and amended and subbed out for many, many years,” said during the tax committee debate. 

One of the more significant changes made since the regular session is a compromise of sorts on plant limits for cannabis producers. Originally, the bill proposed during the regular session specifically barred the state from implementing production limits.

NM Ethics Commission dismisses ethics complaint by DOH secretary against state senator

The New Mexico Ethics Commission effectively dismissed a complaint filed by a state cabinet secretary against a state senator. 

In a letter to New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Tracie Collins, the commission’s executive director Jeremy Farris wrote that the commission would not consider Collins’ complaint against Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque as the issue is out of the purview of the Ethics Commission. According to Farris’ letter, Collins accused Candelaria of violating the state’s Governmental Conduct Act “by voting on a bill that clearly affected the outcome of a litigation matter concerning [Candelaria]’s client, and filed by [Candelaria].”

The bill in question was SB 340, a failed proposal in the regular legislative session that aimed to limit medical cannabis reciprocity. The client in question is medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, which has taken the department to court numerous times and is currently suing the state over medical cannabis plant limits. The latest suit from Ultra Health also accuses the department’s former secretary of discriminating against the medical cannabis producer. 

But the litigation Collins mentioned in her complaint against Candelaria is a suit from Ultra Health that alleged the Department of Health erroneously implemented an emergency rule to limit medical cannabis reciprocity. In 2019, the Legislature passed a law that allowed registered medical cannabis patients from other states to purchase, use and possess medical cannabis in New Mexico.

More contentious debates over cannabis legalization expected during the special session

The New Mexico Legislature is slated to start a special session Tuesday to address economic development and full cannabis legalization. But there is still a question of how much support cannabis legalization will garner from both Republicans and Democrats. 

About an hour after the regular 2021 legislative session ended, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, flanked by Democratic legislative leaders in a news conference, announced that she would call legislators back for a special session to pick up where they left off with recreational-use cannabis legalization. The session started out with five legalization bills, but by the last week there was only one proposal: HB 12. Sponsored by Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, HB 12 quickly became the favored bill for many Democrats, but hit a rough patch as it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee.