Cannabis producer says state is pricing out smaller producers, limiting access to medicine

Dueling press releases over medical cannabis fees show the continuing, contentious relationship between a medical cannabis producer and the New Mexico Department of Health. The producer, Ultra Health, has long argued, often in court, that state mandated plant limits for producers should be higher. 

In a press release issued last week, Ultra Health argued that even with the latest plant increase to 1,750, the state’s fee structure discourages producers from growing the maximum amount of plants. Making it harder for producers to grow the maximum amount of plants, Ultra Health argued, will impact patients.  

“Under the new fee schedule, it will be impossible for all producers to meet the 1,750 maximum and cultivate an adequate supply of medicine for patients,” the Ultra Health release read. 

The DOH recently changed fees for producers to a graduated structure. The cost per plant significantly increases for producers after 1,000. According to Ultra Health’s data, only 12 of the 34 licensed producers paid $180,000 for the maximum 1,750 plants.

A look at ABQ city council candidates

Saturday marks the start of expanded early voting in Albuquerque’s city council election. 

NM Political Report reached out to all of the candidates listed on the city clerk’s website and asked them all the same questions. Their answers were submitted over email and every candidate had about 48 hours to respond. 

District 2

District 2 is the most crowded of the four council races. Incumbent Isaac Benton is defending his seat against five other candidates. The district includes all of downtown, the historic Barelas and Martinez Town neighborhoods and creeps north almost to Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.  

Isaac Benton 

Name: Isaac Benton

Occupation: Full-time City Councilor, retired architect 

What should be the council’s number one priority for the city as a whole? Reducing crime should continue to be our top priority.  Today, we are rebuilding APD and for the first time in six years we have more than 1,000 officers, with 200 more slated by 2021.

Dept. of Health proposes rules for medical cannabis consumption areas, patient reciprocity

The New Mexico Department of Health has proposed a list of rule changes for the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, which would add guidelines for designated “consumption areas” and reciprocity for medical cannabis patients enrolled in medical cannabis programs in other states. 

After major changes to the state’s medical cannabis law made during the 2019 legislative session, the law now states that a consumption area is, “an area within a licensed premises approved by the department where cannabis may be consumed that complies with rule as established by the department.” 

The department’s proposed changes would require consumption areas to be “located on the premises of licensed non-profit producers” and medical cannabis patients who use cannabis in said areas to have a designated driver or use “other lawful means of transportation” when leaving. 

If the rule is finalized by the DOH Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel, medical cannabis producers who want to open a consumption area would be required to submit safety and security plans to the department for approval. Only existing producers would be able to apply to open consumption areas.  

The department has also proposed a rule that would outline reciprocity for medical cannabis patients from outside New Mexico. Not to be confused with a change in law that allows non-residents of New Mexico to enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, reciprocity would allow patients already enrolled in another state’s medical cannabis program to buy and consume cannabis in New Mexico without having to enroll in the program. A reciprocal patient would only need to provide identification and a medical cannabis card from their home state to purchase up to about 8 ounces of dried cannabis flower or corresponding extracts in a rolling three month period, which is consistent with what New Mexico cannabis patients can buy. Dispensaries would be required to enter reciprocal patient information in a DOH-run patient tracking system. 

Other changes include a new fee structure and new testing standards for medical cannabis producers.

Mixed responses to suggestions from marijuana legalization work group

A group convened by the governor and tasked with crafting a framework for cannabis legalization released their full recommendations on Wednesday. 

Many of the recommendations from the Marijuana Legalization Work group are either consistent with or similar to legislation introduced in the 2019 legislative session. Those include protecting the medical cannabis program and its patients, giving law enforcement tools to test for cannabis use and giving New Mexicans—even those with criminal drug charges from the past—opportunities to get involved in the cannabis industry. 

Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, sponsored a cannabis legalization bill earlier this year and told NM Political Report that he will sponsor another version next year based on the work group’s recommendations. Martinez’s bill was eventually combined with a competing Senate bill that proposed state-run cannabis stores. Neither of those bills made it to the governor’s desk and there’s no guarantee another proposal will get any farther in the legislative process unchanged, Martinez said.   

“There’s 112 very unique voices in the legislature, so I’m sure as we go through that process improvements will be made,” he said. “We’ll see what we end up with, but two things I think are the foundation of this framework.

Additional cannabis producer asks to intervene in lawsuit over plant count

A potential new party to a lawsuit filed against the New Mexico Department of Health could further complicate the issue of how much medical cannabis is enough for the state. 

Medical cannabis producer R. Greenleaf has asked a state judge to allow the company to intervene in a lawsuit filed by three other medical cannabis companies that argue the state’s mandated limit on cannabis plants should be raised to better meet demands. R. Greenleaf, through its lawyer, argued that the three producers calling for a higher plant limit are not representative of the rest of the medical cannabis industry. Earlier this year, R. Greenleaf submitted its own study to the DOH and argued that producers need less than 1,500 plants to adequately supply patients with cannabis. 

The lawsuit, filed by producers Ultra Health, Sacred Garden and G & G Genetics, argues that the most recent plant limit increase did not go far enough and that the DOH did not use reliable data to reach the current plant limit of 1,750. The lawsuit says the state did not account for things like additional qualifying conditions and a recent court ruling that allows non-residents of New Mexico to become medical cannabis patients. 

“The New Mexico Department of Health and Secretary [Kathyleen] Kunkel have promulgated an administrative rule that violates a valid, un-appealed order from the First Judicial District Court,” the initial lawsuit read. “The rule also contradicts the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act and defeats the purpose and fulfillment of that statute.”  

The DOH has not filed a response yet, but the request by R. Greenleaf to intervene implies a disagreement amongst producers about whether New Mexico has, or is headed towards a shortage of medical cannabis.

The economy of words—and economics in elections

Words have meaning. But sometimes in politics, there are delineations between former job titles and former job duties. An Albuquerque city council candidate’s self-proclaimed experience as a city economist has raised a question: What is an economist? Since council candidate Zachary Quintero announced his candidacy for City Council District 2, which encompasses downtown Albuquerque, NM Political Report received numerous comments and concerns about one of Quintero’s claims. According to his campaign and at least one of his social media accounts, Quintero worked as an economist for the City of Santa Fe. But Santa Fe does not have a city economist.

ABQ city councilors introduce gun legislation

Three Albuquerque city councilors announced they filed three proposed ordinances related to gun possession in the council chambers, storage of guns and threats of violence online. 

Councilors Pat Davis, Isaac Benton and Diane Gibson held a press conference Wednesday afternoon to present their proposals. 

One ordinance would prohibit guns at functions like city council or county commission meetings and public forums, like town hall meetings with constituents. 

Gibson said many city meetings get heated and some of her constituents have expressed concern for their safety.   

“Many of these gatherings involve a lot of emotions, people are very passionate,” Gibson said. “It’s already a highly charged situation at many of these venues.”

Another ordinance would make it a misdemeanor to leave a gun accessible to others without some sort of lock or device that would prevent the use of it. 

“When you lay a gun down and walk away, we want to be sure it’s not accesible for a kid who can use it, someone who commits suicide or a bad guy who sees it as a target to take,” Davis said. 

Davis, a former police officer, added that simply locking it in a vehicle would not be compliant with the proposal, noting that many guns are stolen out of owners’ cars. 

“If it’s in your car it just needs to be secure and so it can’t be operable,” Davis said. “You can’t shoot a gun that doesn’t shoot bullets.”

The third ordinance would extend a city ordinance prohibiting threats of violence to online platforms. 

One Albuquerque attorney said the councilors would be violating the state constitution if the proposals passed. 

Blair Dunn, who has a history of suing state agencies, said he’s already preparing a case against the councilors. 

“They can’t do it, it’s against the constitution,” Dunn said. 

Indeed, New Mexico’s constitution includes a provision that only allows gun laws on the state level. 

But during the councilor’s press conference, Davis said he and his colleagues are prepared to defend their legislation. 

“We believe we have a defendable case and we’re willing to take it as far as we have to in order to keep our city safe,” Davis said. 

Dunn is already representing a group that is suing New Mexico’s secretary of state and attorney general for denying an attempt to overturn a state gun law through a petition process. 

Regardless, the proposals will need more support than from the three councilors to get a shot at passing.

Amid back and forth court filings, DOH not issuing medical cannabis cards to non-residents

The issue of whether non-residents of New Mexico can enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program is still not settled. A flurry of three motions were filed in three days in a civil case over whether non-New Mexico residents are eligible for state medical cannabis cards. The New Mexico Department of Health filed a motion last week asking a state judge to reconsider his decision to compel the state to issue medical cannabis cards to anyone with a qualifying condition, regardless of where they live. On the same day, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and DOH jointly filed a motion asking a judge to stay, or hold off on, his order for DOH to issue cards to non-residents. Then, on Monday, the three petitioners who originally argued they were due medical cannabis cards even though they live outside New Mexico filed a motion calling for the program’s director to be held in contempt of court. 

The court case started in July when two Texas residents and an Arizona resident who is the CEO and president of a New Mexico medical cannabis asked a judge to force the state to issue the three petitioners medical cards.

‘Latinos for Trump’ call on supporters to talk to friends and neighbors

The morning after President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Rio Rancho, a group of about 100 people gathered to encourage Trump supporters to talk to their friends and neighbors about Trump. 

Latinos for Trump held a panel discussion at Casa Rodeña, a winery in the village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Guest speakers included members of Latinos for Trump, the state Republican chairman, a state representative and Trump’s campaign manager. The message:  volunteering and having conversations about Trump’s policies, not social media posts, is the best way to garner support for the president in Hispanic and Latinx communities. 

Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale has a background in digital media campaigns and said while the Trump campaign will utilize digital technology to connect supporters, the real effort should be local. 

“Winning elections is not about what I do on my computer or what we do across the country, it’s what you do in your neighborhoods,” Parscale told the crowd. 

Echoing his boss, Parscale said news organizations cannot be trusted to get the story right. Instead, he said, it’s up to friends and neighbors to share Trump’s policies and educate each other. 

“We do not get true information when we watch TV,”Parscale said. “Let me just tell you, from a guy who’s had a lot of fake news written about himself.”

Katrina Pierson, a senior advisor for the 2020 Trump campaign, also spoke and told the crowd that support for Trump goes beyond political affiliations. 

“We’ve transcended red and blue states and I think a lot of people have not figured that out yet, because now we have a decision to to be either pro or against America,” Pierson said. 

State Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, told the crowd person-to-person conversations and contagious energy were part of the reason counties like Colfax, Hidalgo and Valencia flipped to Republican in the presidential race in 2016.   

“If we can multiply that with these people in this room and make that excitement happen in their hometowns and neighborhoods, President Trump will coast to victory in New Mexico,” Baldonado said. 

State Republican Chairman Steve Pearce also spoke at Tuesday’s event and praised the venue’s owner John Calvin for having the “courage” to host a political event. 

Calvin, a self-described life-long Republican and “lover of freedom and of free speech,” said he welcomes anyone who wants to hold an event at his winery. 

“Not everybody who comes here is a Republican.

Trump rallies in Rio Rancho, vows to flip NM in 2020

President Donald Trump visited New Mexico Monday for the first time since he took office and he hit all the notes he usually does in his winding, 90-minute speech, including talk of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, attacking what he calls fake news and lambasting politicians he calls corrupt. 

Within minutes, a protester was removed from the event. “Looks like someone’s going home to mommy,” Trump said of the protester. 

The president, as he often does at rallies, boasted about the number of his supporters who come out to see him speak. 

“We tried to get the biggest arena we could get, but it’s never big enough,” Trump added. 

The Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, which holds 7,500 for concerts, was indeed full. 

According to news reports ahead of Trump’s visit, his campaign believes he can win New Mexico in 2020. 

Trump used the state’s oil and gas industry as an example of why he thinks Democrats’ Green New Deal will be bad for New Mexico. If the plan were to pass, he said, there would be no air travel or cows and families would be forced to stay at home. 

“They’ll call us the hermit nation, we’ll never be able to leave the house,” he said. 

When he wasn’t praising his own administration, Trump took aim at Democrats, although he didn’t call out any local Demcratic lawmakers by name. 

Related: As Trump speaks, Democrats rally miles away

“Democrats want us to be subservient,” he said. 

But he did take a shot at U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who he has, in the past, called “Pochahontas” after she claimed Native American heritage. 

“I have more Indian blood than she does, and I have none,” Trump said of the top-tier Democratic presidential candidate. 

Multiple times throughout the night, Trump’s criticisms of the news media prompted most of the crowd to turn around towards the media enclosure and boo. The terms “fake news” was thrown around, both by crowd members and Trump himself. “The Democrat Party and the press, the media, the lame stream media, they’re partners,” Trump said.