ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Under a six-lane span of freeway leading into downtown Baltimore sit what may be the most valuable parking spaces in America. Lying near a development project controlled by Under Armour’s billionaire CEO Kevin Plank, one of Maryland’s richest men, and Goldman Sachs, the little sliver of land will allow Plank and the other investors to claim what could amount to millions in tax breaks for the project, known as Port Covington. They have President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax overhaul law to thank.
About 150 people gathered in an Expo New Mexico building in Albuquerque on Wednesday to hear about rules for manufacturing, storing and extracting hemp products that go into effect next week.
The meeting was the third, and final, part of a series of meetings the New Mexico Environment Department held over two weeks.
Unlike most public meetings held by state departments on proposed rules or rule changes, the public was not given a chance to give input or suggest changes. Instead it was purely informational.
“This meeting is for us to explain what the rules will be for the next six months in the state of New Mexico,” Hemp Program Manager Johnathan Gerhardt told the crowd.
That’s because there’s hemp almost ready to be harvested in the state before rules to outline permit requirements or guidelines on how to label, transport or store it exist. So the department implemented emergency rules and invited stakeholders to come and ask questions. The informational meeting blitz began on July 16 and the emergency rules official go into effect on Aug. 1.
Environmental Health Bureau Chief Bill Chavez told NM Political Report the department didn’t have enough time to go through a traditional rulemaking process after the legislature passed and the governor signed an industrial hemp bill.
“We found out after the bill was signed that there was already growing of hemp occuring and it was going to be ready to be harvested and manufactured into products as early as August or September,” Chavez said.
Everyone in the crowd stuck to the ground rules and only asked questions instead of issuing speeches to make their point.
Smaller farmers have concerns
But not everyone could attend.
Hemp farmer Bob Boylan, whose farm is about 30 miles east of Albuquerque, said he was too busy tending his crops to attend the meeting.
During a New Mexico Department of Health public hearing earlier this month that allowed public input into proposed rule changes to the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, a major player in the industry raised concerns with some patients.
Willie Ford, managing director of the medical cannabis consulting company Reynold Greenleaf and Associates, told DOH officials he wanted more state oversight of patients who grow their own cannabis.
“PPLs need more regulation, they need more oversight for public safety issues,” Ford said. “These are significant and serious issues that affect the general public and their safety.”
PPLs, or Personal Production Licenses, allow patients who qualify to grow up to four plants for their own use. He voice concern with a proposed rule change that would allow PPL holders to take their harvested cannabis to licensed manufacturers to produce extracts and concentrates. Four plants, Ford said, could equal about 20 pounds a year per PPL.
Ford’s comments, and the online rebuttals from PPL patients that came after, highlight an issue that DOH will likely be forced to address, especially before New Mexico legalizes cannabis for recreational use: whether PPL patients should be regulated similar to Licensed Non-Profit Producers who sell products through their dispensaries.
Josh McCurdy with the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Advocate Alliance told NM Political Report that he didn’t appreciate the suggestion that PPL patients are doing anything other than growing their own medicine, often in places where dispensaries are far and few between.
“We need more competition,” McCurdy, who lives and grows his own cannabis in Ruidoso, said. “That’s the reason it’s $10 a gram in Albuquerque and it goes from $12 to $15 in rural areas.”
He estimated his homegrown cannabis costs about $5 to $6 a gram to grow.
McCurdy disagreed with Ford’s claim that four plants harvested around 4 to five times a year could yield about 20 pounds.
“I’ve been by a few hundred PPL grows in this state and 99 percent of them are struggling just to yield a couple of ounces every four months,” McCurdy said.
McCurdy dismissed a common sentiment he said he’s heard from producers—that home growers contribute to illegal cannabis sales.
“The producers have put it in a way, where they like to do some fear mongering and act like the PPLs are the illicit black market,” McCurdy said.
Plans for the Gila River diversion have changed. Again. At a meeting in Silver City on July 2, members of the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity voted to scale back development plans on the Gila River and one of its tributaries in southwestern New Mexico. The vote took place following completion of a preliminary draft environmental impact statement (PDEIS) about the group’s plans in the Cliff-Gila Valley, on the San Francisco River and in Virden, a town in Hidalgo County near the Arizona border. As proposed by the CAP Entity, the waters of the Gila River would be diverted, about three-and-a-half miles downstream from where the river runs out of the Gila Wilderness, via a 155-foot concrete weir wall.
A stressful two-year chapter of Kadhim Albumohammed’s life is coming to a close.
Since July 2017, Albumohammed lived, along with his wife and daughter, in the basement of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Albuquerque. On Wednesday afternoon, he addressed a crowd of about two hundred supporters after he learned that he can finally leave and go home without the fear of being detained by federal agents.
“I love you guys,” Albumohammed told the crowd.
Two years ago he showed up for an appointment with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, fully expecting to be detained. But, because of demonstrations by supporters, ICE cancelled Albumohammed’s appointment. But at his next scheduled appointment, Albumohammed’s lawyer showed up with a letter stating that her client decided to seek sanctuary instead. Albumohammed immigrated to the U.S. from Iraq out of fear of retaliation after supporting the U.S. during the first Gulf War.
Perhaps the most far-reaching idea was to reclassify the more than 40,000 Border Patrol agents and customs officers as “national security employees,” just as all FBI agents and employees at a number of other Homeland Security agencies currently are. Taking away their status as civil servants, the thinking went, would make it easier to fire corrupt and abusive employees. It was, to be sure, an extreme measure. But the panel, a subcommittee of a larger Homeland Security advisory council, had been created late in President Barack Obama’s second term because U.S. Customs and Border Protection seemed in crisis, and the panel subsequently determined that the agency was plagued by a system that allowed bad actors to stay on the payroll for years after they’d engaged in egregious, even criminal, misconduct. Because of civil service protections, a Border Patrol agent who’d been disciplined for bad behavior could challenge his or her punishment through four rounds of escalating appeals before taking the case to an arbitrator or a federal hearing board.
A high-profile New Mexico medical cannabis producer still maintains a recent change in the wording of the state’s medical cannabis law means non-residents should be able to become patients. Brian Egolf, an attorney for medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, sent a six-page letter arguing that point to Medical Cannabis Program director Kenny Vigil on Wednesday. Egolf is also New Mexico’s Speaker of the House. In the letter, Egolf outlined five reasons why the state should allow non-residents to become patients in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program, including a straightforward reading of the law, the fact that other state programs include non-residents, that state law prohibits transporting cannabis across state lines and that the Department of Health cannot override state law. A DOH spokesman said the department received the letter late in the day on Wednesday and was still reviewing it at publication time.
Albuquerque will not become the latest city in the state to adopt ranked-choice voting. The Albuquerque City Council voted 5-4 Monday night against implementing a ranked-choice voting system in time for the next municipal election in November. Ranked-choice voting is also known as instant-runoff, and is a process in which voters ranked their choices of candidates. In a ranked-choice election, if no candidate gets a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated from the list and voters who chose that candidate have their second choice counted. That process continues until there is a winner with the majority of the votes.
As communities worldwide experience the impacts of rising global temperatures, and scientists forecast future scenarios with more and more certainty, many policies in the United States—related to everything from building codes and economic opportunities to social welfare and water conservation—aren’t up to the coming challenges. Now, a group of American scientists and policymakers is trying to bridge the disconnect between science and policy—and help states, cities, tribes and small communities plan for future conditions and also cut their greenhouse gas emissions. “My experience is that decision-makers are very challenged by both the magnitude of climate issues and the complexity,” said Kathy Jacobs, director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the University of Arizona. “One of the things we’re trying to accomplish with this new network is more readily connecting people with information that is useful to them.”
The network can help people integrate science and community values into decision-making and understand how to manage climate threats, like wildfires and floods, while navigating legal realities or “preexisting burdens such as histories of restrictive zone, siting of industrial facilities and inadequate public health infrastructure.” Or, help local officials think about how to take advantage of new economic opportunities, such as renewable energy technologies. This effort builds on the scientific work looking at the impacts of human-caused climate change on the environment, economy and infrastructure.
The New Mexico Department of Public Health has made it clear—only New Mexico residents can enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. “Persons who are not residents of New Mexico cannot be enrolled in the NM Medical Cannabis Program,” the department said in a statement to NM Political Report Friday. The statement came after the CEO of a prominent medical cannabis producer said he believes a change in the law allows for out-of-state patients to enroll in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program. Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of Ultra Health, previously told NM Political Report he bought radio ads in the southeast part of New Mexico to inform those in west Texas they can now apply to become a medical cannabis patient. Cannabis is illegal in Texas for all uses, including medical.
A recent expansion of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis through rule changes will likely result in a higher number of patients in New Mexico. But a law that goes into effect on Friday could also result in a new pool of patients—non-residents of New Mexico.
Some changes to the law include protections from discrimination for patients, reciprocity with other states’ medical cannabis programs and an extended life span of medical cannabis cards. But perhaps the most significant and, until now, overlooked change to the law is who qualifies for medical cannabis cards. As of Friday, the definition of a “qualified patient” will no longer include the term “resident of New Mexico.” That term was replaced with “person.”
Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, noticed the change in language and launched a campaign targeted towards residents of Texas who live close to New Mexico.