It is nearly a guarantee that recreational cannabis legalization will be one of the main talking points and likely a wedge issue during next year’s legislative session. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has made it clear since she ran for governor and throughout her nearly two years in office that she wants to see cannabis legalized.
There have been repeated efforts to fully legalize recreational-use cannabis for a number of years, but under former Gov. Susana Martinez those attempts repeatedly failed. Now, with a governor advocating for legalization, backed with potentially millions of dollars, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for proponents of legalization.
But both the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions showed that it takes more than the governor’s support to legalize cannabis. For the past five years, even under the Martinez administration, no such effort to legalize cannabis even came close to getting to the governor’s desk. Now, even months before legislation can be filed, lawmakers are already discussing the merits and downsides of legalization.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office confirmed Friday that the state’s head of public safety was “dismissed.”
The news site Northern New Mexico Independent first reported that Lujan Grisham fired Public Safety Secretary Mark Shea. In response to the report that Shea notified his, now former, employees in an email, NM Political Report inquired with the governor’s office for further confirmation.
Lujan Grisham’s office did not reply specifically to the request, but it did release a statement saying the Lujan Grisham administration “is taking the opportunity of a leadership change to strengthen the mission of the Department of Public Safety to deliver vigorous and smart-on-crime statewide law enforcement, with a renewed emphasis on community police work and the unequivocal protection of New Mexicans’ civil rights.”
“I want to thank Secretary Shea for his service to the state,” Lujan Grisham said in a prepared statement. “The Department of Public Safety plays an essential role. Our employees and officers are duty-bound to equitably protect and dutifully serve New Mexicans, and I am confident they will continue to meet and exceed the expectation of communities all across the state.”
In its announcement, the governor’s office said New Mexico State Police (NMSP) Chief Tim Johnson will serve as interim secretary while the state looks for Shea’s permanent replacement. NMSP Deputy Chief Robert Thorton will take on the role of interim state police chief, according to the announcement.
Shea’s employment termination comes during a time of both local and national calls for reforms of police departments and civil rights laws.
Comments and questions raised on Tuesday during an interim legislative tax policy committee point towards lengthy debates on recreational cannabis legalization in the upcoming legislative session in January.
Richard Anklam, the president and executive director of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute, told lawmakers that states that were early in legalizing recreational-use cannabis like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California have seen significant tax revenue increases in the past several years. Anklam, using a study from the Tax Foundation, a national think tank, said New Mexico could see roughly $70 million in excise taxes, before factoring in gross receipts taxes, if the state legalizes cannabis for recreational use.
While not as common, Anklam said some states who have recently legalized recreational-use cannabis have developed tax models based on potency instead of by volume of what is sold. He said, the potential increase in tax revenue may not become the state’s saving grace, but that it would make a significant impact.
“What’s the marijuana market worth? It’s worth a lot,” Anklam said. “Most states can’t fund highly significant portions of their government with it, but every little bit helps.”
Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of Ultra Health, a New Mexico medical cannabis production company, told lawmakers that despite the large amounts of possible tax money going to the state, current restrictions on cannabis production would not be conducive to a cannabis boom.
Rodriguez has long been a vocal critic of the state’s Department of Health’s restrictions on how many plants producers can grow.
Election Day is a month and a half away and New Mexico’s Secretary of State Maggie Tolouse Oliver wants voters to know the state’s election process works and is safe and secure.
Over the past several weeks, there has been speculation from President Donald Trump and the Republican Party that voting by mail could result in widespread voter fraud. Questions about how secure mail in ballots are is nothing new. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a push by many to encourage voters to mail in their ballots instead of showing up in person to vote.
Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report that she is confident in both her staff and the county clerks’ ability to accurately and efficiently process ballots on Election Day and even the days leading up to it.
National political rhetoric has also seemed to create confusion in New Mexico whether mailing in a ballot is safe. Trump has expressed his concern with mailing in ballots, yet he has voted by mail in Florida, where he is registered to vote. Further, the Republican Party of New Mexico has sent out at least one batch of mailers, encouraging voters to request an absentee ballot and vote in support of Trump.
On Sunday, state health officials announced two more deaths related to COVID-19 and 67 new cases of the disease. The total number of reported cases is 27,579 and there have been 849 deaths related to COVID-19 in total.
In Sunday’s announcement officials said there are currently 64 people hospitalized for the disease and 15,412 have been deemed recovered.
According to state health officials, this is the breakdown of the newly reported cases.
11 new cases in Bernalillo County14 new cases in Chaves County12 new cases in Doña Ana County8 new cases in Eddy County7 new cases in Lea County3 new cases in Lincoln County1 new case in McKinley County2 new cases in Quay County1 new case in Rio Arriba County1 new case in Roosevelt County2 new cases in Sandoval County1 new case in San Juan County1 new case in San Miguel County2 new cases in Santa Fe County1 new case in Socorro County
One of the latest deaths was in Bernalillo County and the other was from Chaves County. A male in his 60s from Bernalillo County was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 60s from Chaves County was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. Bernalillo County continues to have the most total cases of COVID-19. Here is a breakdown by county of the total number of cases.
During the governor’s weekly update on COVID-19 statistics, her appointee in charge of overseeing the federal census in the state urged New Mexicans to make sure they are all counted.
Pam Coleman, the chair of the Statewide Complete Count Commission and director for the New Mexico State Personnel Office said “today’s the day to get counted.”
New Mexico has 12 days left to collect census data and Coleman said unlike COVID-19 numbers, the state needs to see higher census numbers.
“It’s really good when numbers go up in the census,” Coleman said. “So my message to everyone listening to the press covering is that if you are waiting for the perfect day to respond to the census, today’s the day.”
Coleman said the state had a 57 percent self-response rate as of Thursday and that while it’s a “good” number it should be higher.
She said some families may be visited by census workers, but that anyone can call to submit their information as well as submitting it online.
Census information is not only used to count the state’s population, but also directly impacts how much money New Mexico gets from the federal government.
Coleman said through health care, housing, education and job programs, New Mexico could see almost $8 billion a year.
To put the potential money into perspective, Coleman said if every New Mexican is counted, the money the state receives would be equivalent to every household member receiving $10 every day. And, she said, census numbers can also help inform businesses that are considering moving to New Mexico about the potential customer base and the number of potential employees.
“The way that all business decides to make a choice about where they move is based on census data,” she said. “If we don’t count every single, precious New Mexican, businesses cannot make their decisions with the most complete data.”
Coleman asked those who have already submitted their census information to become “census ambassadors” by encouraging others to do the same through social media, over the phone and through email.
“You can become a census evangelist, no matter where you go,” Coleman said.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham added that despite “negative, false information” about confidentiality, New Mexicans should not be concerned that personal details will be shared outside of the census.
Coleman said the census is “the most important thing” New Mexican’s can do “that takes less than 10 minutes.”
“We’re counting on you New Mexico,” Coleman said. We’re counting on you to get counted, to count every single person in your household.”
Those who still need to be counted can go to the census website at 2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020 to submit their information over the phone.
Despite conditions that make social distancing difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, a New Mexico state district judge ruled that keeping a man in state prison would be safer than going home roughly four months early.
District Judge Albert Mitchell ruled on Aug. 20 that despite his underlying health conditions and close living conditions in prison, Stanley Ingram would be safer in prison than at home with his girlfriend in Tucumcari.
In the order, Mitchell acknowledged Ingram’s health conditions, including diabetes and heart arrythmias, and how those conditions have been reported to create a higher risk of experiencing severe complications from COVID-19. Still, Mitchell reasoned that since there is only one reported case in the Penitentiary of New Mexico, where Ingram is detained, and fifty cases in the county where he would live when released, Ingram is safer in prison.
“The policies and procedures implemented at the Department of Corrections facility where Mr. Ingram is being held appear to be more effective in protecting the individuals in state custody from COVID-19 than the Governor’s orders as implemented in Quay County, New Mexico,” Mitchell wrote.
In a phone call last week, Mitchell told NM Political Report that he cannot speak about Ingram’s case specifically because it’s still considered pending.
Ingram could still appeal the ruling, but he said he can not afford another attorney and that the issue would likely not be settled before his pending Dec. 15 release date.
During a call from prison, Ingram told NM Political Report he was disappointed by the ruling.
“That’s ludicrous what he did, and it’s not right.” Ingram said.
NM Political Report previously reported that Ingram had obtained a number of educational and drug treatment certificates while incarcerated and was initially not given credit towards early release. The New Mexico Department of Corrections finally did honor his certificates and Ingram expected to be released in November.
New Mexico Political Report is excited to announce the result of a months-long collaboration with New Mexico PBS: Growing Forward.
Growing Forward is a new podcast about cannabis in New Mexico, thanks to a grant from the New Mexico Local News Fund.
Reporter Andy Lyman and NMPBS correspondent Megan Kamerick have teamed up to produce ten episodes looking at the state’s current medical cannabis program, how it started and what New Mexicans could see in the near future in terms of legalization of recreational-use cannabis.
You can hear episodes every Tuesday and the first one will be released on Sept. 22. Subscribe on your podcatcher of choice and check out the trailer below.
Some elections can devolve into popularity contests. But one issue on the ballot in New Mexico will be whether or not one of the state’s key regulatory bodies should be made up of elected or appointed officials.
Currently, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission is made up of five elected officials, each representing their own area of New Mexico. But voters will have the chance to decide whether or not to change the state’s constitution and make the commission a three-member body, with commissioners appointed by the governor.
At least one mailer sent out to voters does not seem to explicitly advocate for one side or another, but does frame the issue as professionals versus politicians.
“Look for constitutional amendment #1 on your ballot in the fall!” the mailer reads.
It also compares health experts guiding Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic and states that the amendment “would require real experts with defined credentials to oversee our utilities, and these professionals would be prohibited from having any financial interest in any public utility.”
The PRC, which is independent from the governor’s office and the legislature, has been the target of scrutiny from other elected officials for years, and even more so since the Legislature passed what is now known as the Energy Transition Act, a step away from the state’s reliance on coal powered energy.
The mailer that rhetorically asks voters, “qualified professionals or politicians?” was paid for by a group called Committee to Protect New Mexico Consumers. The New Mexico Secretary of State’s office does not have a record of such a group registering as a political committee, but a spokesman for the office said the next deadline for groups to register is not until October.
Bob Perls, a former New Mexico lawmaker and sponsor of a 1996 constitutional amendment that created the PRC, said he thinks the push to change how the commission is made up was not well thought out. Like all New Mexico constitutional amendments, this one started as legislation.
With an additional four deaths related to COVID-19 and 46 new positive cases reported on Sunday by New Mexico health officials, the state has seen 807 deaths and 26,144 confirmed cases of the disease. As of Sunday, the state Department of Health reported 65 people are hospitalized in the state with the disease and 13,604 have been deemed recovered.
According to state officials, all four of the latest deaths came from counties with the most total number of cases.