NM starts accepting cannabis cultivation license applications

Nearly 400 companies started the process of applying for a license to grow cannabis in the first several hours the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department started accepting applications. 

According to an RLD representative, of the 344 applications that were started, 226 of them were for a microbusiness license, which is a type of production license to grow no more than 200 plants. 

According to RLD, five applications were submitted as complete, but had not been verified as complete. One of those completed applications, according to RLD, was a test application submitted by an existing medical cannabis producer. Existing medical cannabis producers went through the application process earlier this summer.  

In a statement RLD Superintendent Linda Trujillo said the department is committed to setting up a program “in ways that support businesses, consumers and communities.”

“The Cannabis Control Division is committed to making the licensing process as easy as possible while upholding the law and ensuring the integrity of New Mexico’s cannabis industry,” Trujillo said. “We look forward to working with licensees to stand up an industry we can all be proud of.”

The application is currently only open for cultivation, but the department and the Cannabis Control Division has to come up with rules and regulations for manufacturers, curriers, retailers and cannabis testing by January 1, 2022. 

According to a press release from RLD, integrated businesses, or those that include multiple aspects of cannabis business, will need to apply for each part of their business separately, but any fees paid for individual licenses will be applied to the total fee that would normally be applied to an integrated license application. 

The Cannabis Control Act, which legalized non-medical cannabis use in New Mexico requires that cultivation licenses be issued no later than January 1, 2022 and that retail sales begin no later than April 1, 2022. 

More information on requirements and the application process can be found here. 

Judge denies restraining order in lawsuit against vaccine requirement

A federal lawsuit against New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, over one of her public health orders, is moving forward. But the judge in the case dismissed a request to issue a temporary restraining order to block vaccine requirements for health care workers and state fair attendees. 

U.S. District Court Judge Martha Vázquez, through an order on Monday, fast-tracked the lawsuit against Lujan Grisham, but said there was not enough justification to warrant a restraining order. The suit was filed by two New Mexico residents who argued that a recent public health order requiring vaccines for certain activities violates both the New Mexico and U.S. Constitution. 

In her order, Vázquez wrote that the two plaintiffs, Jennifer Blackford of Rio Rancho and Talisha Valdez of Union County, still have options under the public health order. 

“While alleging that the [public health order] would prevent Blackford from retaining her employment and Valdez from entering the State Fair, the Complaint ignores the existence of the exemptions to the PHO’s vaccination requirements,” Vázquez wrote. “As noted above, the PHO allows for three exemptions to the vaccination requirements for hospital workers and State Fair attendees, including an exemption that can be supported by a mere statement as to the manner in which the administration of a vaccination conflicts with the beliefs of the individual.”

The public health order, in part, requires proof of vaccination to attend the New Mexico State Fair. It also requires healthcare workers to provide proof of vaccination. 

But the order also provides exemptions and an alternative to getting vaccinated.

Bernalillo County commission chooses Bounkeua to fill vacant legislative seat

With a unanimous vote, the Bernalillo County Commission appointed the first Asian American woman to the New Mexico Legislature. 

Viengkeo Kay Bounkeua, who goes by Kay, was sworn into office Tuesday evening by Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover after commissioners voted 4-0 to appoint Bounkeua to fill the House District 19 seat. The House seat was left vacant after former Democratic Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton resigned amid embezzlement charges. 

Bounkeua is the New Mexico Deputy Director of The Wilderness Society, a national environment advocacy organization, and the former director of the New Mexico Asian Family Center. 

In a phone interview with NM Political Report just after her appointment, Bounkeua said she had a mix of emotions. 

“I feel a bit overwhelmed, I feel a bit scared, I feel so content and peaceful,” she said. “And also, I feel that I have the love and guidance of so many people who do this work and do it well, and of all the ancestors that carried us to this moment. I feel that power and I’m so grateful for it.”

Bounkeua was nominated by County Commissioner Adriann Barboa, who said she had seen Bounkeua’s qualifications first hand. 

“I’ve seen her be gentle enough to work with the care needed to serve people in domestic violence situations, and the strength and power to fight for the visibility and the rights of refugee and immigrant families,” Barboa said. 

Bounkeua’s parents were refugees of the Vietnam War and moved to Albuquerque’s International District in 1974. In her application to commissioners, Bounkeua wrote that her family experienced discrimination after her parents became naturalized citizens in 1986 and saved enough money to buy a house in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. 

“As we were planning for our future, the neighborhood was petitioning to ban us from buying a home, saying people who looked like us would drive down property values and bring in crime,” Bounkeua wrote. 

After the vote, Bounkeua told commissioners that her appointment is an “opportunity to kick open doors so we’ll never again be the only or the first.”

She told NM Political Report that she plans to carve out a path for others as well. 

“It’s not going to end with me,” Bounkeua said.”It’s about who we can bring with us, who will come after us, how we set the stage for the next generation of leaders who come through, that’s what this is all about.”

Bounkeua said her immediate legislative focuses will be redistricting and education reform. 

“I’m still focused, and will be focused, on redistricting.

NM cannabis regulators set to accept applications for growers

New Mexico cannabis regulators are one step closer to opening the proverbial floodgates for those who plan to apply for a cannabis cultivation license. 

The state’s Regulation and Licensing Department and its Cannabis Control Division announced on Tuesday that the department finalized rules and regulations for cannabis cultivation as well as a social and economic equity plan and plans for addressing possible cannabis shortages. 

The department also announced that it would start accepting cultivation applications several days ahead of the statutory deadline of Sept. 1. 

In a statement on Tuesday, RLD Superintendent Linda Trujillo said the rules “reflect the unique needs and perspectives of New Mexico residents, businesses, entrepreneurs and communities.”

“We are ready for business,” Trujillo said. “The Cannabis Control Division is committed to supporting licensees to maximize the economic opportunities that adult-use cannabis sales offer our state.”

The new rules create four different levels of cultivation licenses, based on the number of plants that a producer plans on growing. At the highest level, producers can have up to 8,000 flowering plants, but an unlimited number of immature plants. The rules seem to create a path for exceptions to the 8,000 plant rule, but also state that no cultivator may have more than 10,000 plants. 

The finalized rules also set a goal for the Cannabis Control Division to ensure that “at least 50 percent of applicants for licensure, licenses, and cannabis industry employees” represent groups and communities that have historically been negatively impacted by previous drug laws.  

For years, medical cannabis patient advocacy groups have raised concerns about the state’s Medical Cannabis Program taking a back seat to the new adult-use program.

NM judge calls for increased purchase limit for medical cannabis patients

As New Mexico’s Regulation and Licensing Department works toward finalizing rules for non-medical cannabis sales, some unfinished business remains when it comes to the state’s medical cannabis program. 

A state district judge last week ordered RLD, the New Mexico Department of Health and the governor’s office to either change their policy for medical cannabis patient purchase amounts or present a compelling argument for not doing so. 

“Respondents’ purchase limitations violate equal protection principles because they will subject New Mexicans with debilitating medical conditions who are dependent on medical cannabis to lower purchase limitations than persons who purchase cannabis from the recreational (and taxed) market,” read the writ of mandamus signed by Second Judicial District Judge Benjamin Chavez. “Respondents’ unlawful rules also attempt to impose an illegal tax on any medical cannabis purchases in violation of the Cannabis Regulation Act.”

The Cannabis Regulation Act, which went into effect on June 29 and is the framework for sales expected to start next spring, allows purchasers to buy up to two ounces of cannabis at a time. But the state’s Department of Health, which is RLD’s medical cannabis counterpart, has maintained that a DOH policy limiting medical cannabis purchases to roughly eight ounces in a 90-day period takes precedence over the new law. 

For years, New Mexico cannabis patients have been limited to 230 “units” in a rolling 90-day period. DOH rules define a unit as one gram of dried cannabis “flower” or 200 milligrams of cannabis extract or concentrate. Under the new law, however, non-medical cannabis purchases are limited to two ounces for each transaction.

New lawsuit claims NM public health order violates rights

The governor of New Mexico and one of her cabinet secretaries is again facing a lawsuit after issuing a COVID-19 public health order requiring healthcare workers, among other professions like teachers or school staff, to be vaccinated unless they qualify for an exemption. The order, which was issued on Aug. 18, also requires that anyone attending the upcoming New Mexico State Fair be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The day after the order was issued, two women filed a class action suit against the state, arguing that the order violated their right to refuse a vaccine that has not been fully approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration. 

Rio Rancho resident Jennifer Blackford, is a registered nurse with Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque who has not been vaccinated for COVID-19. According to a signed affidavit, Blackford said that based on her medical training and her own independent research, she has decided not to get a COVID-19 vaccination. 

“It is my right to choose not to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and it violates my right to bodily integrity under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article II, Section 10 of the New Mexico Constitution to require that in order to keep my job I must inject an experimental [Emergency Use Authorization] vaccine into my body,” Blackford’s affidavit reads. 

Emergency Use Authorization is an expedited process, but is not described as “experimental” and is still made after clinical trials with “rigorous standards” according to the Federal Drug Administration. Even without the public health order in question, Presbyterian recently announced it would require all of its staff to be vaccinated. 

Talisha Valdez is a resident of Union County and the mother of two daughters who had planned on showing livestock in a 4-H competition at the state fair.

Growing Forward: Cannabis testing

In two weeks, the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department, by law, must start accepting applications for non-medical cannabis cultivation licenses. But an often overlooked aspect of the cannabis industry is testing. 

The state Department of Health has long had a list of testing requirements for medical cannabis, but now that nearly all aspects of cannabis is overseen by a new department, lab operators like Barry Dungan of Rio Grande Analytics are anxiously waiting for new testing standards. Dungan began his career in cannabis testing after a stint as a researcher at New Mexico State University. He and his partners started Rio Grande Analytics in Las Cruces, but earlier this year, the company moved to Albuquerque to be more centrally located. 

Dungan told Growing Forward, the collaborative cannabis podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS, that he’s mostly still operating under the DOH rules, but that he needs advance notification of rule changes from RLD. 

“The stuff that we need to buy are things that are in state labs and crime labs and forensic labs,” Dungan said. “This isn’t, go to the used car lot and just get one.

CYFD secretary steps down, citing a family decision to move out of state

The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department will have a new department head in October, according to an announcement on Tuesday from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. 

According to the announcement, current Secretary Brian Blalock will step down this month “to support his wife’s pursuit of new work opportunities in California.”

Lujan Grisham appointed Blalock, who previously worked in California as a child welfare advocate. In a statement, Lujan Grisham said she was grateful to Blalock for his work with CYFD. 

“When Brian agreed to take this role, my expectation and hope was that an expert set of eyes from outside of our system would be the right ingredient to help move the ball forward for New Mexico children and families,” she said. “He inherited an agency in disarray, with employees who had been sidelined and discouraged by an administration that did not prioritize or support this essential work. Under his leadership the agency has made progress and implemented productive policies.”

While personal reasons were cited as his reason for stepping down, the announcement comes on the heels of a series of stories from Searchlight New Mexico that highlighted reported shortcomings in the department. In April, it came to light that the department was using an encrypted messaging system for internal communication, which raised questions about transparency.

Growing Forward: New Mexico’s Green Rush Part 2

About a month after New Mexico legalized cannabis use and possession, and about eight months until sanctioned sales are expected to start, there is little doubt that many New Mexican’s are eager to get a foothold in the state’s newest industry. 

The state’s Regulation and Licensing Department is still in the process of finalizing rules and regulations for cultivation licenses and is expected to impose further rules for testing standards, retail sales and consumption areas. But that hasn’t stopped some from preliminarily looking for warehouses or land to grow cannabis. Others looking to get into the cannabis industry have begun consulting businesses. 

Growing Forward, the collaborative podcast between New Mexico PBS and NM Political Report that looks at cannabis in New Mexico, spoke with several people hoping to get into the new industry earlier, rather than later. The day after the state’s Cannabis Regulation Act became official, P2M, a cannabis business consulting firm, hosted a legalization conference in Albuquerque. 

The company is made up of Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, Matt Kennicott, who previously worked for former Gov. Susana Martinez and Patricia Mattioli, who has worked as a consultant for medical cannabis companies. 

Mattioli said there are numerous other parts of the cannabis industry that often go overlooked and that don’t need extra certification from RLD’s Cannabis Control Division.  

“You’ve got accountants, you’ve got insurance, you’ve got training,” Mattioli said. “So, the job creation that’ll go on for the next 10 years is huge.

New Mexico’s climate may lead to a smaller carbon footprint when growing cannabis

When the New Mexico Legislature was considering a bill that eventually became the Cannabis Regulation Act, one of the major topics of concern was water use. Ultimately, lawmakers agreed to require cannabis growers to prove they had legal access to water. But one issue that was not addressed, at least not at length, was how much power it would take to operate possibly hundreds of grow operations around the state. A study released in March of this year showed that as states move towards legalizing adult-use cannabis, greenhouse gases and energy consumption have gone up. The study also showed that some of the higher energy-use areas were in the southwest and midwest regions of the U.S. And while state regulators do not have any specific energy restrictions for cannabis growers, two people familiar with New Mexico’s cannabis industry said the state’s climate will likely play a key role in keeping the carbon footprint of cannabis small. 

The study from earlier this year found that high levels of greenhouse gases and excessive energy use comes from indoor growing, where climate control is reliant on fans, high powered lights and manufactured carbon dioxide. 

A spokesperson for the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department, which oversees the state’s Cannabis Control Division said there are currently no restrictions or guidance for energy consumption.