Cannabis research bill advances

The House Commerce and Economic Development approved a bill that would allow for special licenses to grow, buy, sell or manufacture cannabis for approved research facilities Friday by a 6-3 vote. HB 334, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, would allow licensed research facilities to grow and transport cannabis and establish a Cannabis Control Division to regulate licensing. The state’s Regulation and Licensing Department (RLD) would oversee the Cannabis Control Division. 

Martínez fielded questions from both Democratic and Republican committee members, but all of the criticisms came from Republicans. Some of those concerns were whether RLD is the best home for the Cannabis Control Department. 

Martínez and his expert witnesses explained to the committee that under current federal law, research facilities can get approval from the Drug Enforcement Agency to grow cannabis, but those researchers must get their plants from the federal agency. If passed, HB 334 would allow New Mexico to issue special research licenses and researchers could grow their own cannabis or buy from another approved facility. 

Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Los Lunas, said she didn’t think regulating cannabis is necessarily in the department’s purview.

Bill would protect cannabis patients who live on federal trust land

A New Mexico state senator is trying for a second time to pass a bill that would protect medical cannabis patients who live on tribal land. 

Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, said his SB 271 would protect patients from federal law enforcement scrutiny. 

“We have native patients that are under this program and so when they’re off the reservation they’re legal, but as soon as they get on the reservation, federal trust land, it’s illegal because the federal government still has that as a federal violation,” Shendo said. 

Shendo said he hopes that an agreement between the state Department of Health and tribal leaders will at least lower the chances of federal charges for medical cannabis patients who live on tribal land. 

“We had a meeting with the feds and they felt that having some agreement with the state would be really helpful,” Shendo said. 

The state’s medical cannabis law allows for patients to purchase up to about eight ounces of dried flower or buds in a rolling three month period. And even though the tribal land is physically in New Mexico, the state government has little say in what happens on or to that land. 

Shendo said he isn’t sure how many medical cannabis patients live on tribal land, but that the change is still long overdue. 

“This is an issue that we probably should have taken care of when the [Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use] act was enacted, but it wasn’t so we’re just trying to make that correction,” Shendo said. 

The Senate Committee’s Committee, which determines whether bills fit into the governor’s legislative agenda during 30-day sessions, has not ruled the bill germane yet. But, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive message earlier this week, authorizing the Senate to consider the bill. 

Shendo introduced a similar bill last year that only made it through one committee before the session ended. 

Medical cannabis qualified patient clarification bill breezes through committee

The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted in favor of a bill that would specify that only New Mexico residents can enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. 

All but one member voted to approve Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino’s SB 139, which Ortiz y Pino said is an attempt to “clarify” that a qualified medical cannabis patient must be a resident of New Mexico. 

Up until last year, the statutory definition of a qualified patient included the words “resident of New Mexico.” Ortiz y Pino told the committee that one of his bills last year struck those words and replaced them with “person.” He also told the panel that his intention was to establish a path towards reciprocity with other medical cannabis states.  

“Not being a lawyer, I don’t understand how that wasn’t clear,” he said. Ortiz y Pino’s bill last year, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law, had a separate definition for reciprocal patients. Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel helped to present the bill and answer questions. She told the committee that one of her bigger concerns, other than having enough medical cannabis for New Mexico patients, is that residents of Texas are getting New Mexico cannabis patient cards and taking cannabis across state lines, which is against federal law. 

“We have now essentially given license to non residents to transport a controlled substance across our state borders,” Kunkel told the committee. 

Kunkel said there are currently more than 600 patients enrolled in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program who are residents of other states and one person from Mexico with a pending application. For context, there are about a dozen counties in the state with fewer patients.

Bill to eliminate settlement confidentiality period stalled indefinitely

Legislation aimed at eliminating a six month confidentiality period after legal settlements with the state stalled indefinitely in a Senate committee, pending changes suggested by some members. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee decided on Monday to postpone SB 64, sponsored by Republican Sen. Sander Rue of Albuquerque and Democratic Sen. Linda Trujillo until more changes to the bill are made. 

Committee Chair Joseph Cervantes said he is trying to avoid making changes in committee and suggested the sponsors take some of the recommended changes into consideration and bring it back to the committee. Concerns from other members ranged from a lack of penalties for releasing information before a settlement is made official to unclear language about when a claim with the state is considered settled. 

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, bluntly told the bills sponsors, along with General Services Department Secretary Ken Ortiz, that the bill was unclear. “Frankly, I think you’re so far in the weeds you’re not clear,” Ivey-Soto said. 

Ivey-Soto’s suggestion was that the sponsors completely strike the section of law that currently requires a confidentiality period and start from scratch. 

Just before Rue presented his bill, State Auditor Brian Colón presented a summary of his office’s findings related to 18 settlements made in the final weeks of former Gov. Susana Martinez’s time in office. Late last year Colón’s office conducted an audit of those settlements and found “abuse of power” and wrongdoing by the Martinez administration. 

The Martinez settlements’ three year confidentiality period went well beyond 180 days. Some committee members said they were concerned that Rue and Trujillo’s bill did not do enough to prevent a confidentiality period being written into the terms of a settlement. 

Regardless of Cervantes’ hesitation to pass the bill along as-is, he said he was frustrated with the revelations of the Martinez settlements.

Ruling means state may owe millions in tax refunds to cannabis producers

The state of New Mexico’s Taxation and Revenue Department could be on the hook for millions of dollars in tax refunds to medical cannabis producers after a state Court of Appeals ruling made earlier this week. 

In her opinion filed on Tuesday, Court of Appeals Judge Monica Zamora wrote that medical cannabis producers should be able deduct gross receipts taxes just as pharmacies do for sales of prescription drugs. Under the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, the state’s medical cannabis law, medical cannabis is not prescribed to patients. Instead, qualified medical professionals issue a recommendation to the state Department of Health for each patient. 

Zamora cited the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, which says that restricted drugs “shall be dispensed only . . .

Legal settlement transparency bill breezes through first committee

The Senate Public Affairs Committee unanimously approved a measure that would eliminate a confidentiality period for legal settlements made with state departments. 

Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, presented SB 64, which would make significant changes to a law that requires a confidentiality period for claims settled with the state. Currently, any claims settled by the state’s Risk Management Division must remain under wraps for 180 days. Rue’s bill not only changes the triggering events that start the 180-day clock, but also eliminates the confidentiality period all together. 

There was little discussion and no debate among panel members during the hearing. Members of the public who spoke in favor of the bill included representatives for good government groups like Common Cause New Mexico and the New Mexico Foundation for Government as well as the Office of the State Auditor. No one spoke against the bill. 

Prior to the committee hearing, Rue told NM Political Report that he decided to sponsor the bill after it was revealed last year that millions of dollars were paid out in secret legal settlements under the previous governor Susana Martinez.

Cannabis legalization bill passes first committee on party lines

A cannabis legalization bill passed its first committee Tuesday. The Senate Public Affairs voted 4-3 along party lines to pass SB 115 after hours of public comment and debate between lawmakers. 

Even though a number of people spoke against legalization, they were largely outnumbered by those in favor of it. 

For the most part, those who spoke out in opposition said they were concerned about safety and health issues like driving while impaired and addiction. 

The bill’s sponsor and the committee chair, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, did not present the bill. Instead, legalization proponent and medical cannabis patient Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, took the lead on selling the bill to the committee

Candelaria answered some concerns about testing drivers for cannabis use. There is no test for levels of cannabis like there is for alcohol. “Just because there is no test, doesn’t mean people won’t get caught for DWI,” Candelaria said.

Gov. Lujan Grisham’s 2020 State of the State address, annotated

NM Political Report partnered with New Mexico PBS, KUNM-FM, Searchlight New Mexico and the Alamogordo Daily News to analyze Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State Address. Below is a copy of her speech, with annotations.

Cannabis legalization looms large in session

The 2020 legislative session starts tomorrow and besides the standard 30-day budgetary issues, many eyes are on cannabis and whether this is the year it becomes legal to use recreationally. Last week, two lawmakers filed bills aimed doing just that. 

Rep. Javier Martinez and Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, both Albuquerque Democrats, are cosponsors of the Senate version of the Cannabis Regulation Act. Martinez is the sponsor of the House version of the bill. 

The bills are largely based on recommendations from a legalization work group and a legalization bill that failed to get to the governor’s desk last year. Both bills are 175 pages long and prescribe how recreational should be taxed, age limits for possessing or consuming cannabis and which state entities will be involved. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced last year that she would support a comprehensive legalization bill and added to “the call” this year. It is nearly unheard of for legislation to make it to the governor’s desk without some amendments, so these two bills will likely change in the next 30 days, but here are some key points of the bills. 

Possible heartburn

Various different lawmakers have tried to pass recreational legalization bills over the years, but 2019 marked the farthest in the process a proposal made it in recent history.

DOH set to finalize rules on cannabis consumption areas, new testing standards

New Mexico is one step closer to establishing sanctioned, legal areas for medical cannabis patients to use their medicine. 

The Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program held a public hearing Thursday to hear comments from the public regarding department rule changes. Those changes include higher testing standards for cannabis producers and manufacturers, reciprocity for medical cannabis patients already enrolled in a medical program in another state and consumption areas. 

Most comments from the public were about the testing standards, but some medical cannabis patients said they would like to see more leniency on who can open a consumption area and where they can open it. 

Erica Rowland, a founding member of the Albuquerque-based cannabis producer Seven Clover, said the opportunity to open a consumption area should not be limited to those who already produced the cannabis. 

“Consumption areas should not be limited to [Licensed Non Profit Producers],” Rowland said. 

But because the state’s cannabis law is specifically written and leaves little room for interpretation, the Legislature would need to act to change consumption area requirements. After changes made during the 2019 legislative session, the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act allows for consumption areas, but requires that they are owned and operated by a Licensed Non Profit Producer, effectively barring someone from starting a new business solely for cannabis consumption. 

The statute, not the proposed rule change, also requires that anyone consuming cannabis at a consumption area have a safe ride home. It’s still unclear who would be held liable for someone who leaves a consumption area and drives themselves. Medical Cannabis Program Director Dominick Zurlo said that is more of a legal question and out of the DOH’s purview. 

“One of the big issues of course is New Mexico is one of the states that has a huge issue with DUIs and we want to ensure people are able to get home safely,” Zurlo said.