NM cannabis producer sues state, claims retaliation

A prominent New Mexico medical cannabis producer filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the state Department of Health, alleging the department violated a previous court order and discriminated against the company regarding cannabis plant limits.  

Albuquerque-based attorney Jacob Candelaria, who is also a New Mexico state senator, filed the motion on behalf of Ultra Health, a medical cannabis company that has previously taken the state to court numerous times. In the motion, which effectively reopened a previous lawsuit against the state, Candelaria argued that the Department of Health, which oversees the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, failed to obey a court order that plant limits for medical cannabis producers be based on reliable data and that the department discriminated against Ultra Health specifically. 

The case that was reopened was originally filed in 2016 and argued that the state’s then-limit of 450 plants was not enough to provide an adequate supply of medical cannabis to the more than 26,000 medical cannabis patients at the time. In November 2018 a state district judge ordered the state’s Department of Health to come up with a data-based plant limit for medical cannabis producers by March 2019. 

With five days until the state’s deadline, then Secretary of Health Kathyleen Kunkel sent an email to Jane Wishner, a policy advisor for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, about the department’s next steps in coming up with a data-driven limit on cannabis plants. The email chain began with the former director of the Medical Cannabis Program explaining that New Mexico seemed to be the only state with a medical cannabis program that used plant counts as a limit, opposed to facility size. Wishner, in reply, contemplated taking a look at the state’s medical cannabis law and coming up with a temporary plant limit for producers.

Governor, health officials discuss COVID-19 vaccine efforts

The governor and New Mexico health officials are optimistic that they have enough capacity to administer vaccines—with a bottleneck at the number of vaccines the state receives from the federal government. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham acknowledged that the state has also seen its fair share of hiccups, including an overwhelmed call center devoted to vaccinations because of unexpected demand from the public. 

“We should stop underestimating that and we can do better, straight up. We can just do better,” she said. But she also placed blame on a much-criticized federal distribution of the vaccines to states. “The planning by the federal government was very poor,” the governor said.

Guv declares state of emergency as state prepares for ‘likely’ riots at government buildings

On Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency over “likely” riots at the state capitol and other government buildings this weekend and through next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. The governor cited last week’s “violent insurrection” at the U.S. Capitol and “credible intelligence that threats of similar riots exist and are likely to occur at the capitol building and other prominent government buildings in all 50 states either before or on January 20, 2021.”

The declaration directs the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to direct the response and the Adjutant General of the New Mexico National Guard “to order into service any element of the New Mexico National Guard as may be needed to provide military support to civil authorities.”

Earlier this week, the FBI warned in an internal bulletin that some protesters are planning on “storming” all 50 state capitols, the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. and other government buildings including courthouses between now and Jan. 20. New Mexico leaders told NM Political Report earlier this week that they are preparing for such a protest, as the first day of the New Mexico legislative session and Biden’s inauguration next week. The FBI bulletin, according to ABC News, advised that local and state law enforcement beef up operations.

Legislators seek to reform drug laws

New Mexico lawmakers have tried to take on drug addiction and deadly overdoses for decades. During previous years, lawmakers from both major parties attempted to address opiate epidemics in the state through both increased penalties and more progressive measures. 

This year, with not only a Democratic majority and a Democratic governor, but also a new incoming class of  more progressive Democrats in the Senate, the state could see movement on bills that would lower penalties for drug possession as well as public health minded approaches to addiction. 

Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, told NM Political Report that she plans to sponsor a bill that would allow for safe and legal places to use illegal narcotics, often referred to as safe injection sites. The idea, Armstrong said, is that people would be able to bring already obtained narcotics to a designated location where there would be medical professionals on hand to assist in the event of an overdose and provide resources for recovery. 

“It makes sense to me, for public safety, for the health and safety of the individual and a different attempt to try and get folks help,” Armstrong said. 

Armstrong, who has consistently sponsored healthcare related bills during her six years in the Legislature, said safe consumption sites would hopefully address concerns in many communities regarding used needles scattered around public areas like parks and playgrounds. But, she said, it would also address over-criminalization of substance addiction. 

“It is definitely a healthcare issue,” Armstrong said. “But it is a criminal justice reform as well, because this is a safe place with no threat of being arrested.

Supreme Court brings back restrictions on medication abortion

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday to reinstate restrictions on the a medication abortion pill that allowed patients to receive it through the mail during the pandemic. The justices ruled 7 to 2 on the decision in favor of the U.S. Federal Drug Administration. The FDA has maintained a rule that a patient must travel to a clinic to pick up the abortion pill mifepristone for the past 20 years when the drug first came onto the market. Reproductive advocates and experts have said that is politically motivated. The patient can take the pill in a place of their own choosing.

Guv quietly looks to expand export markets for natural gas

In July 2020, Gov.  Michelle Lujan Grisham signed onto a letter of support for a natural gas export facility being proposed in Baja California, Mexico. The letter, which was addressed to Mexico’s Energy Secretary Nahle Garcia, touted the facility as a potential “major North American west coast energy export hub” of natural gas to Asian Markets. 

“Energy demand is soaring in Asia, led by China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India due to manufacturing and economic growth,” the letter reads. “All of these countries are using natural gas as a way to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions.”

The letter was signed by two other governors and the chairman of the Ute tribe in Colorado, on behalf of the Western States and Tribal Nations Natural Gas Initiative (WSTN). New Mexico joined the group in late 2019, with little media attention, when the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with WSTN. A few months after sending the letter, the facility was approved by Mexico’s regulators and Baja California joined WTSN.

Before mob stormed the Capitol, days of security planning involved cabinet officials and President Trump

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. President Donald Trump met with top military officials and gave his approval to activate the D.C. National Guard three days before he encouraged a mob of angry protesters to take their grievances to the U.S. Capitol. A Pentagon memo released Friday offers these insights, as well as the first detailed timeline of the bungled law enforcement response to Wednesday’s insurrection. The timeline shows that the planning started at least as far back as Dec.

New Mexican economists warn: Change course now

Later this month, New Mexico lawmakers will have another chance to fix an economic problem that has plagued the state for decades. “For at least 40 years people in the state government and the Legislature have known that they are overly dependent on oil and gas for state revenue,” says Jim Peach, regents professor of economics at New Mexico State University. Right now, more than 40 percent of the state’s income relies on the boom-and-bust fortunes of oil and gas. Now, according to a trio of New Mexico’s leading economists, the time has come to change course. This story was first published at Capital and Main and is republished here with permission.

State moves to phase 1B of vaccination plan

The state Department of Health released its plan on further vaccination efforts in the state, saying the state moved past phase 1A, which featured vaccinating frontline healthcare workers and residents and employees at long term care facilities, to phase 1B. Under phase 1B, those 75 years of age or older, those 16 or older with underlying medical conditions that place them at greater risk from COVID-19, frontline essential workers who cannot work remotely, educators and other school employees and vulnerable populations such as those at congregate care facilities are now eligible to join those part of phase 1A in getting vaccinations. “DOH is pleased to release New Mexico’s vaccination plan – and to provide the clarity that New Mexicans seek about this critical effort,” Department of Health Secretary-designate Dr. Tracie Collins said. The department said Collins would have further remarks in a remote press conference on Monday. 

Earlier this week, Collins said exact numbers were not available because not all providers had reported their vaccination numbers, but the state estimated that about 60 percent of the 106,500 doses the state received from the federal government had been administered. At the same time, DOH announced who would be eligible under phase 1C and phase 2 of the state’s vaccination plan.

Domestic terrorism: A more urgent threat, but weaker laws

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. In the days leading up to the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the FBI received intelligence that extremists were planning violence as lawmakers gathered in Washington to certify the electoral victory of President-elect Joe Biden. FBI officials managed to dissuade people in several places from their suspected plans, a senior FBI official said — but there was not enough evidence to issue arrest warrants. “Prior to this event, the FBI obtained information about individuals who were planning on potentially traveling to the protests, individuals who were planning to engage in violence,” said the senior FBI official.