Small wins for cannabis in 2020 legislative session

Cannabis legislation was not a complete loss for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham during this year’s legislative session, but it was far from a complete win. Despite almost a year of work from a group assembled by Lujan Grisham to come up with proposed legislation for cannabis legalization, the proposal she backed failed early on in the session. The only Lujan Grisham-backed proposal that made it to her desk is a bill that would limit enrollment in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program to New Mexico residents. 

During a press conference after the Legislature adjourned on Thursday, Lujan Grisham said she will keep pushing for a safe and comprehensive legalization measure, even if it means changing the state constitution. New Mexico law does not allow for voter initiatives, which is how most states, including Colorado, legalized cannabis. The only way to change law through an election question is to propose a constitutional amendment, and Lujan Grisham said that’s not off the table. 

“I’m open to any number of pathways,” Lujan Grisham told reporters. 

New Mexicans only

SB 139, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, was promoted as a fix to legislation that was passed into law last year.

NRCC names two CD2 candidates to ‘contender’ status

Two Republicans seeking the 2nd Congressional District seat remain in the good graces of the national organization seeking to elect more Republicans to Congress. On Wednesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee added former State Rep. Yvette Herrell and oil lobbyist Claire Chase to the “contender” tier of the organization’s Young Guns program. According to the NRCC, those considered contenders are candidates who “have completed stringent program metrics and are on the path to developing a mature and competitive campaign operation” and are running in congressional seats “that appear favorable to the GOP candidate.”

“These hard working candidates have proven their ability to run strong, competitive campaign operations. We’re going to ensure these contenders are victorious in November by forcing their Democratic opponents to own their party’s radical socialist agenda,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said. Herrell, who was the Republican nominee in 2018, said in a statement that the announcement “is yet another validation of the winning campaign that we are building.”

“We will continue working hard all across this district, taking nothing for granted as we earn the Republican nomination and then take back this seat from Nancy Pelosi’s puppet Xochitl Torres Small,” Herrell continued.

Medical cannabis qualified patient bill heads to governor’s desk

A bill that would limit enrollment in the state’s medical cannabis program to New Mexico residents passed the House and is on its way to the governor’s desk. 

SB 139, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque would change the definition in the states medical cannabis law to specify that a qualified medical cannabis patient must be a resident of New Mexico. The House passed the bill on a 44-19 vote. 

As the bill has made its rounds in committee hearings, New Mexico’s Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel repeatedly stressed her fear that the federal government may try and interfere with the states Medical Cannabis Program if the bill is not signed into law. 

Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, presented the bill for Ortiz y Pino and fielded questions from her colleagues. 

Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Aztec, questioned how the Department of Health, which oversees the Medical Cannabis Program, defines what a resident is. 

Armstrong, aided by Kunkel, said the department will accept various documents to prove a potential patient lives or plans to live in New Mexico. 

Montoya  ultimately voted against the bill. 

Rep. Zack Cook, R-Ruidoso, who was the sole dissenting vote on the bill in a committee hours earlier, also voted against the bill. He dismissed Kunkel’s concerns about the U.S. Department of Justice. 

“We don’t know that the feds are going to do anything,” Cook said, echoing his statements from earlier in the morning. 

Regardless, the bill received bipartisan support. But, four Democrats voted against the bill despite Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s support. 

The issue of who gets to enroll in the program goes back to last session when a bill that made sweeping changes to the state’s medical cannabis law also changed the definition of what a qualified patient from a “resident of New Mexico” to a “person.”

Arizona resident president and CEO of medical cannabis producer Ultra Health Duke Rodriguez, along with two Texas residents, successfully convinced a state judge that they should be eligible to enroll in the program. Lujan Grisham and the DOH took the issue to the state Court of Appeals where the issue is still pending.

Medical cannabis qualified patient bill has one last stop before the governor’s desk

A bill aimed at limiting who can enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program was approved in committee Monday morning and now has one more stop before the governor’s desk. 

The House Health and Human Services Committee passed SB 139 on a 6-1 vote. 

Update: The legislation passed the full House on Monday afternoon. See the story here. The bill would change the law to allow only New Mexico residents who have a qualifying condition to get a medical cannabis patient card. 

Though sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, the committee’s chair Democratic Rep. Debbie Armstrong of Albuquerque presented the bill, with the help of Secretary of Health Kathyleen Kunkel as her expert witness. 

Kunkel told the committee that a change in law last year that was aimed at forging a path to reciprocity, or allowing certified medical cannabis patients from other states to purchase and use cannabis in New Mexico, inadvertently resulted in about 600 out-of-state patients enrolled in New Mexico’s program. 

Kunkel said it has been an “administrative burden” on the Department of Health since the state started allowing non-residents to enroll in the program. Plus, she said, she fears that the current law will attract unwanted attention from the U.S. Department of Justice. 

“I am concerned that we are tempting the federal government to come in and interfere with our program,” Kunkel said. 

All three Republicans on the committee raised questions and concerns, but ultimately the only dissenting vote came from Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso. Early on in the hearing, Kunkel said there is currently a resident of Mexico enrolled in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program because of the law change.

Medical cannabis qualified patient bill moves to the House

A Senate bill that would specify that only New Mexico residents are eligible to enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program is headed to the House. 

SB 139, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, passed the Senate floor Saturday night by a 32-8 vote. Ortiz y Pino told other Senate members that the bill is an attempt to “plug the hole” that was created in a bill he sponsored last year that was signed into law. 

The bill he sponsored last year, among other changes to the state’s medical cannabis laws, removed the words “resident of New Mexico” from the definition of a qualified patient and replaced them with “person.” Shortly after the law was changed last year, Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, along with two Texas residents, took the state to court after the three were denied medical cannabis patient cards. Rodriguez is an Arizona resident, but according to court documents owns a home and vehicle in New Mexico. Arizona has a medical cannabis program and Texas has a medical program with limited conditions and only allows cannabis with half a percent of THC—a psychoactive substance in cannabis. 

After a state district judge ruled in favor of the three petitioners, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office and the Department of Health took the issue to the Court of Appeals, where it remains pending. 

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, took issue with the bill and repeated some of the same concerns he brought up in a previous committee hearing. He told a story about a friend of his who suffered through cancer treatment and was unable to benefit from medical cannabis because he lived in Texas.

Groups and individuals rally for abortion rights at the Roundhouse

Abortion access took center stage Wednesday for the roughly 200 people who came out for Respect New Mexico Women Day of Action at the Roundhouse. Respect New Mexico Women organized the rally. Marianna Anaya, spokesperson for the coalition, gave a speech on the importance of keeping abortion safe and legal. The group chanted and then walked silently through both the House and the Senate floors with a fist raised. The various groups and individuals headed to legislators’ offices to, in some cases, thank them for their support and in others, to remind legislators that there are people in New Mexico who care about this issue.

New billboards aim to start conversation about abortion access

A grassroots advocacy group launched a billboard campaign Monday to promote keeping abortion safe and legal and to spark conversations about abortion access. The two billboards, from ProgressNow New Mexico*, will be on I-25 near the Budagher Drive exit, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The signs face both north and south so drivers traveling in either direction will be able to see the message. The two highway billboards both say, “Rape is about power and control. So are abortion bans.”

The second billboard will be on the side of a truck driving around the state Capitol building and downtown Santa Fe Tuesday.

TelAbortion could ease access woes

While abortion access at the national level has come under greater assault in recent years, some nonprofit groups on the front lines for reproductive healthcare are providing what is known as “TelAbortions” to New Mexicans through a study. A TelAbortion has the potential to simplify the process of terminating a pregnancy and some advocates say it could be the way of the future. To qualify, the patient needs to be less than 10 weeks pregnant. Through video conferencing over an electronic device, the patient speaks with the study’s health provider. After establishing that the patient is less than 10 weeks pregnant, the patient receives the two pills necessary – mifepristone and misoprostol – through the mail.

Elisa Martinez jumps into Senate race

A prominent anti-abortion activist filed paperwork to run for U.S. Senate on Wednesday. Elisa Martinez, who founded the New Mexico Alliance for Life and is the group’s executive director, is the third Republican to run for the open U.S. Senate seat after filing her statement of candidacy with the FEC. Only one Democrat is currently running for the position. She announced her candidacy in Albuquerque shortly after. If elected, the member of the Navajo Nation would be the first Native American woman U.S. Senator nationwide and the first Latina U.S. Senator from New Mexico.

Going down fighting: Dying activist champions ‘Medicare For All’

When Santa Barbara lawyer-turned-activist Ady Barkan settled in to watch the second round of the Democratic presidential primary debates late last month, he had no idea his story would be part of the heated discussion. Barkan, 35, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, watched from his wheelchair as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren described how he and his family had to raise money online to help pay for roughly $9,000 a month in health care costs not covered by his private health insurance. https://twitter.com/AdyBarkan/status/1156365277749305344

“The basic profit model of an insurance company is taking as much money as you can in premiums and pay out as little as possible in health care coverage,” Warren said. “That is not working for Americans.”

But for Barkan, the moment was not about him. “Elizabeth Warren’s point wasn’t just to mention my name, it was to call attention to the ways our broken health care system is hurting people across the country,” he said in an email interview.