Growing Forward: Holiday Leftovers

This week marks the final episode of Growing Forward’s first season. This week, we talk about some of the things we didn’t get to in subsequent episodes. 

One of those issues is banking. Over the years, as states began legalizing both medical and recreational-use cannabis, there have been numerous reports of cannabis companies struggling with where to put their money. Nationally accredited banks have historically been hesitant to openly take money from sales of a federally illegal substance. 

We talked to Patty Lindley, the director of compliance and quality at U.S. Eagle Federal Credit Union about how that organization is working with medical cannabis companies to make banking safe and legitimate. Lindley said U.S. Eagle has a seperate program for medical cannabis banking that she hopes will appease federal regulators. 

“I do expect there to be some extra scrutiny on the program, so we’re prepared for that,” Lindley said.

NM hits another COVID-19 record, Department of Health reports 35 more deaths

New Mexico health officials announced Friday 2,076 new COVID-19 cases and 35 deaths related to the disease. This brought the total number of cases in New Mexico to 91,852 and 1,504 total deaths.  

The 35 deaths were the most in a single day in New Mexico. 

Legislature passes COVID relief bill during quick special session

The New Mexico State Legislature passed a COVID-19 relief bill that would provide over $300 million in relief provided by the federal CARES Act in a very short special session that lasted less than eight hours. The bill included $194 million to provide $1,200 for those who qualify for unemployment and lost work because of the pandemic. It also would provide $100 million in grants to local small businesses and nonprofits, with smaller amounts to provide aid for rent and mortgage payments, money for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and vaccine rollout and money for households that did not receive federal stimulus money earlier this year. Update: Lujan Grisham signs COVID-19 relief package into law

The bill ultimately passed with widespread majorities in both the House and Senate, though many legislators voiced concern about the proposal and said they wished they had more input. Only one amendment to the introduced legislation passed, one that would include 501(c)8 organizations to be eligible for funds.

DOH and Medical Cannabis Program ordered back to court over reciprocity issue

The New Mexico Department of Health and its Medical Cannabis Program have two weeks to convince a state district court judge that the department and program should not be sanctioned for violating a court order. 

The order is the latest in a legal battle between medical cannabis producer Ultra Health and the state over who qualifies as a reciprocal medical cannabis patient. 

This summer, the Department of Health finalized rules allowing patients who are authorized to use medical cannabis in another state or jurisdiction to also buy, use and possess cannabis in New Mexico. Shortly after the rule was made final, some New Mexicans reportedly started getting certified to use medical cannabis in other states that don’t have as stringent qualifications as New Mexico. 

By September, the department and the Medical Cannabis Program issued a mandate that dispensaries only sign up would-be reciprocal patients whose identification cards match their authorization to use medical cannabis. The department and program also issued an emergency rule change, specifying that New Mexicans cannot be reciprocal patients in New Mexico. 

Ultra Health, through its attorney Jacob Candelaria, who is also a state senator, days later filed a petition asking First Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Wilson to compel the state to “stop taking actions that are beyond and contrary to their statutory authority.”

By October, Wilson ordered the state to rescind its emergency rule change and mandate barring New Mexicans from registering as a medical cannabis patient in another state and becoming reciprocal patients in the New Mexico program. 

The department and medical program immediately abided by the order and again allowed New Mexico residents to register as reciprocal patients. 

But by the end of October, the Medical Cannabis Program published a notification of a proposed rule change similar to the emergency change. Then, earlier this month, the state notified the court of its plan to appeal Wilson’s decision. Two days later, Candelaria filed a motion asking Wilson to call the state back to court and explain why they should not be sanctioned for violating the judge’s order.

Growing Forward: A trip to a dispensary and manufacturing facility

In this week’s episode of Growing Forward, we took a field trip. 

Co-host Megan Kamerick and I visited both a dispensary and a cannabis manufacturing facility to learn more about how medical cannabis patients in New Mexico get their medicine and to learn about some extraction processes. 

Our first stop was to R. Greenleaf in Albuquerque. Our tour guide was Dominic Garcia, the director of retail operations for the dispensary’s management company Reynold Greenleaf and Associates. Garcia said the dispensary runs on a pharmacy model where the cannabis is dispensed from a window behind the counter. 

Garcia said employees are not licensed medical providers but can still help new patients navigate the many different varieties of cannabis and many different methods of consuming it.   

“A lot of times also the peer educator will ask about what their ailment is and then from there, they can help educate them from a point of also being a patient,” Garcia said. 

From there, Megan and I went to Mountain Top Extracts, also in Albuquerque. 

Eric Merryman is part owner, along with his wife Jennifer, of the manufacturing company. Eric said he started the business after he helped his ailing mother find ways to combat the symptoms of cancer. Eventually, Eric and Jennifer were licensed by the state to make cannabis extracts and derivatives.

NM Supreme Court again faced with COVID-19 in prisons, Guv says there is not much else that can be done

As the number of COVID-19 cases and related deaths in New Mexico continue to increase throughout the state and the state is halfway through a two week stay-at-home order, criminal justice advocates continue to push Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to do more to reduce prison populations. 

There have been two attempts to get the courts involved, but the latest legal challenge, a class-action lawsuit, was dismissed last month. The judge in that case ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction to weigh-in because the inmate plaintiffs did not show that they had exhausted other remedies like an appeal through the New Mexico Department of Corrections.   

Now, the plaintiffs—two advocacy groups and nearly a dozen inmates—are taking the issue to the Supreme Court for a second time, albeit with a different ask of the justices. 

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association asked the state Supreme Court to intervene and compel Lujan Grisham and her corrections department to broaden their scope of how to limit prison populations in light of COVID-19. Those two groups ultimately failed to convince the New Mexico Supreme Court that inmates were subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the U.S. Constitution, and to compel Lujan Grisham and the Department of Corrections to do more than release inmates 30 days early. 

For her part, Lujan Grisham signed an executive order that essentially expanded an already existing provision and allowed some inmates out 30 days before their scheduled release date. The qualifications for early release under Lujan Grisham’s executive order are narrow and prompted groups like the public defender’s office, the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the ACLU to call for things like expedited parole for certain inmates and allowing some inmates to finish their sentence at home. 

‘Getting really tricky to figure out where people can go’

Faegre Drinker, an international law firm, joined with Albuquerque-based attorney Ryan Villa to represent the plaintiffs in the class action suit that may be heard by the state’s high court. 

The question before the court will not be whether or not the inmates are subjected to cruel and unusual punishment or even if the state has done enough to limit prison populations. Instead, justices would decide whether a district court judge can hear a case before all other options have been exhausted. 

In a statement, Faegre Drinker attorney Chris Casolaro said time is running out for inmates facing the risk of COVID-19 as infection rates in prisons are rising, nearly every day. 

“Coronavirus cases continue to surge in New Mexico, putting incarcerated people in far greater danger than they already were,” Casolaro said.

NM officials report more than 2k new COVID-19 cases, 25 new deaths

The number of COVID-19 cases continued to skyrocket Saturday after state health officials reported 2,353 new cases and 25 related deaths. According to the update by health officials, there are 825 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and 28,574 have been deemed recovered from the disease. 

Bernalillo County again significantly outpaced all other counties in terms of newly reported cases, with 647. The new cases also included two federal detainees at the Cibola County Correctional Center. In total, there have been 79,440 confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Mexico and 1,350 reported deaths.   

The more than 2,000 new cases by county are below. 

647 new cases in Bernalillo County3 new cases in Catron County118 new cases in Chaves County57 new cases in Cibola County3 new cases in Colfax County85 new cases in Curry County2 new cases in De Baca County291 new cases in Doña Ana County72 new cases in Eddy County17 new cases in Grant County3 new cases in Guadalupe County1 new case in Hidalgo County113 new cases in Lea County31 new cases in Lincoln County4 new cases in Los Alamos County51 new cases in Luna County212 new cases in McKinley County1 new case in Mora County26 new cases in Otero County15 new cases in Quay County27 new cases in Rio Arriba County20 new cases in Roosevelt County149 new cases in Sandoval County127 new cases in San Juan County7 new cases in San Miguel County121 new cases in Santa Fe County10 new cases in Sierra County16 new cases in Socorro County16 new cases in Taos County21 new cases in Torrance County85 new cases in Valencia County2 new cases among individuals being held by federal agencies at the Cibola County Correctional Center

Most of the newly reported deaths were in Doña Ana County, including a male in his 20s with underlying conditions. The breakdown of the newly reported deaths, by county are below. 

A female in her 70s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized, had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Skies Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Albuquerque.A male in his 80s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 90s from Cibola County who had underlying conditions.A male in his 20s from Doña Ana County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 40s from Doña Ana County.

NM Senate Dems pick leadership, make choice for pro tem nominee

New Mexico Senate Democrats picked their leadership Saturday and made their nomination of who they want in the Senate president pro tem spot. 

The majority party in the Senate picked Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque as their choice for pro tem, but the full Senate will still vote when they meet for the 2021 legislative session in January. 

In a statement through the Senate Democrats, Stewart said she hopes Democrats and Republicans can work together next year. 

“I am honored to have the support of the Democratic Caucus for President Pro Tempore as we enter what will undoubtedly be a difficult session that will require us to solve New Mexico’s many problems under unprecedented circumstances,” Stewart said. There’s still no guarantee that Stewart will be elected by the body as a whole. In 2013, for example, Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, was the Demcratic nominee for the pro tem spot, but a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans had enough votes to put Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, into the spot. Papen lost in this year’s Democratic primary to Democrat Carrie Hamblen of Las Cruces. Hamblen went on to win in the general election. 

Earlier this week, there seemed to be some tension among some Senate Democrats leading up to Saturday’s caucus meeting.

Gov. Lujan Grisham announces special session date, plans on a $300 million relief package

During a weekly news conference with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about COVID-19, the governor covered the usual topics and encouraged people to stay home and wear masks. 

But likely the biggest news was that Lujan Grisham has a date planned for a special legislative session. 

“I’m happy to announce right now that the special session I will call, will be called for this coming Tuesday right before Thanksgiving,” Lujan Grisham said. “We’ve spent the last several days working with legislators, both chambers, both sides of the aisle, to work on those details.”

Lujan Grisham’s office announced last week that she planned on calling on legislators to meet and arrange for extra financial support for New Mexicans. 

During this week’s news conference, Lujan Grisham said she wants to see $300 million from the New Mexico CARES Act go to unemployment benefits, housing grants and grants for small businesses that have been impacted by the public health order. 

“We want to get this relief out to New Mexicans. They need unemployment, they need housing assistance and businesses need grants,” Lujan Grisham said. That gives us a day to get the processes well underway on that Wednesday before Thanksgiving so that the Monday when we get back we’re pushing money out the door. It’s critical that we do that.”

As Thanksgiving approaches, New Mexico is also seeing a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases and related deaths.

Tension among Democrats over pro tem race

The alleged involvement of a progressive political group in the race for state Senate president pro tem seems to be causing some consternation among some New Mexico Senate Democrats.   

According to sources familiar with the Senate Democratic Caucus, state Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, announced during a recent caucus meeting that he was approached by an unnamed political group that offered something in exchange if Cervantes voted for the groups choice for pro tem. 

Sources NM Political Report spoke with, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, said Cervantes did not specify what was offered or which political group offered it. 

Cervantes declined to discuss the matter, but did not deny that it happened. 

“I think it’s important that I work through the channels and the process we have for ethics issues,” Cervantes said. “So I’d tell you that I wouldn’t talk with you about that publicly until the appropriate time to do so.”

When asked which authority he reported the possible incident to, Cervantes didn’t give any more details. 

“I have spoken with individuals in a confidential way and in the appropriate way that we have for reporting things of concern,” he said. 

The pro tem position is voted on by the full Senate, but Democrats will have a 27-15 majority when the next legislative session begins in January. 

One source said several caucus members have been approached by representatives from the New Mexico Working Families Party to discuss potential legislation, with the conversation quickly turning to the pro tem race. 

Working Families state director and former state senator Eric Griego called the notion that his group would try to drum up votes with a bribe “absurd.”

“First of all, we’ve not talked to Senator Cervantes at all,” Griego said. 

Griego said his group has been meeting with members of the Senate Democratic Caucus to discuss legislation and that occasionally the pro tem race comes up in conversation. But, he said, his group has only offered up their list of preferred Senators in those conversations and that the implication of quid pro quo is “super libelous.”

“It’s patently false, we just don’t work that way,” Griego said. 

The Working Families Party is a national organization that operates as both a political party in some states and also as a political advocacy group. 

Griego said the local chapter worked hard this year to oust what the group calls “corporate champions.” The group endorsed a list of candidates this year and helped get moderate Democrats out of office during the primary. Griego said his group wanted to follow through with that effort.    

“We worked our butts off to elect good people, both in the primary and the general,” Griego said. “And we’re not just going to hope that it turns out ok, in terms of leadership.