State job opportunities limited for medical cannabis patients

Earlier this year, New Mexico legislators and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham overhauled the state’s medical cannabis statute. Updates to the law ranged from relatively simple definition changes to more significant changes like allowing consumption areas for cannabis patients. 

But the parts of the law that are supposed to protect patients from losing their jobs solely for being a patient in the program may also be hindering the nearly 79,000 cannabis patients in New Mexico from getting a job with the state. That’s because the law also protects employers by giving them enough autonomy to fire or not hire a cannabis patient for safety concerns or if the employer could lose federal funding for hiring a cannabis user. 

Jason Barker is a medical cannabis patient advocate and a patient himself. He said he started looking at job descriptions after the state announced a three-day “rapid hire event”scheduled for next week and aimed at hiring hundreds of new employees. But, Barker said, many of the jobs he’s qualified for are considered safety sensitive, which would require a pre-employment drug test.

Pelosi announces House will move forward with articles of impeachment

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that the U.S. House of Representatives would start drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump over his withholding of foreign aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigating the son of a political rival. The announcement came after an investigation by the House, which began in late September. At the end of October, all three of New Mexico’s members of the House, all Democrats, voted to support the impeachment inquiry. The investigations included closed door meetings by House committees and more recently public hearings of the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. Ben Ray Luján, the Assistant Speaker in the U.S. House of Representatives, supported the announcement.

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.

YouTube promised to label state-sponsored videos but doesn’t always do so

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 a recent episode of “60 Minutes,” a political talk show broadcast on Russian television, the hosts discussed the case against Maria Butina, the Russian gun activist who was recently released from prison in the U.S. after pleading guilty to conspiracy to act as a foreign agent. One of the co-hosts remarked that while the Americans charged Butina with spying, “all of it turned out to be nonsense.” Sympathetic to this interpretation of events, the studio audience erupted in applause. The hourlong show — not to be confused with the venerable CBS program — airs weeknights on the state-owned Russia 1 television network, which boasts the second-largest viewership in the country.

Brief public hearing focused on cannabis testing standards, additional meeting scheduled

Snowy and icy roads Friday morning made for a short, and yet to be completed, public comment period for medical cannabis rule changes. 

New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program (MCP), which is run by the state Department of Health, convened a meeting for public comments on a number of proposed changes, including patient reciprocity, consumption areas and testing standards. The program’s director, Dominick Zurlo, began the meeting by announcing a second meeting to give those who could not make it due to the weather a chance to add input. Friday’s meeting was only about an hour long and comments largely focused on testing standards and mostly came from producers. 

Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, told the MCP that the proposed microbiological, heavy metal and pesticide testing and labeling standards were problematic. 

“We feel like labeling is a very important component, but the labeling restrictions are simply unrealistic for what needs to go on a vast amount of products that are sold as medicine,” Lewinger said. 

Lewinger added that the increased amount of product producers are required to pull for testing would not only harm producers, but would increase costs to patients. 

Jennifer Merryman, from Mountaintop Extracts, agreed with Lewinger about testing sample sizes and suggested the MCP have more frequent and thorough conversations with those in the medical cannabis industry before proposing rules. 

“Perhaps we could add a little bit of local, New Mexico common sense,” Merryman said. “We’re all willing to work with you.”

Zurlo later invited those in the crowd to reach out to him with their concerns. 

Merryman told NM Political Report the proposed rules would significantly cut into the supply of smaller production companies. 

“Normally we send one and a half grams, sometimes [testing labs] will ask for two grams but not anymore than that per batch testing,” Merryman said. “Now, they’re looking to have a 23 gram sample per batch test.”

She said that standard would hurt small operations who have smaller yields. 

“That’s taking away product from that dispensary who has to compensate the loss of that money on to the patient,” Merryman said. 

Other producers also spoke about their concerns about labeling and testing standards and their common message was that increased sample sizes would ultimately equal higher prices for patients. 

What was almost non-existent in the meeting were the topics of patient reciprocity, producer fee structures and consumption areas.

Taos ‘water protector’ protests highlight complexities of water rights settlements

Nelson Cordova’s commanding presence quieted an audience gathered in one of the large ballrooms at Buffalo Thunder in Pojoaque. Cordova, who is the director of the Taos Pueblo Water Administration Department, was about to begin his presentation on the Taos Indian Water Rights Settlement, also known as the Abeyta Settlement, at the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute’s 64th annual Water Conference. 

The event, focused on tribal perspectives on water this year, drew a who’s who of water experts, researchers and engineers in the state, as well as an impressive showing of tribal leadership from across New Mexico’s indigenous nations. Water rights settlements were top of mind for many attendees. 

Speaking to the crowd, Cordova voiced what has become a common refrain among settlement parties: “Not everybody got what they wanted.”

Congress approved the Taos Indian Water Rights Settlement in 2010, 41 years after adjudication was first filed in 1969. The settlement was one part of a wider push from the state to enshrine tribal water rights into law before appropriating water to other parties. Nelson Cordova, director of the Taos Pueblo Water Administration Department, speaking at the 64th Annual Water Conference, held at Buffalo Thunder.

The case of the ACA’s disappearing taxes

It was a moment of genuine bipartisanship at the House Ways and Means Committee in October, as Democratic and Republican sponsors alike praised a bill called the “Restoring Access to Medication Act of 2019.”

The bill, approved by the panel on a voice vote, would allow consumers to use their tax-free flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts to pay for over-the-counter medications and women’s menstrual products. Assuming it ultimately finds its way into law, the measure would also represent the latest piece of the Affordable Care Act’s financing to be undone. Over-the-counter medication had been eligible for preferred tax status before the ACA. But that treatment was eliminated as part of a long list of new taxes and other provisions to generate revenue. The measures were aimed primarily at higher-income earners to pay the 10-year, roughly $1 trillion cost of the health law.

‘Not much benefit to the state’: Legislators scrutinize details of Holtec’s proposed nuclear storage facility

Ed Mayer, program manager at the private firm that is seeking to build one of the world’s largest nuclear waste storage facilities in New Mexico, wants to set the record straight. “You hear sometimes, oh, this is going to be a nuclear waste dump. This isn’t a dump,” Mayer told members of the Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee earlier this month. “This is a highly engineered, safe and secure facility.”

The firm Holtec International, which specializes in spent nuclear fuel storage, has applied for a license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate the facility in southeastern New Mexico. The proposal, which is still moving through the licensing application process established by the NRC for consolidated interim storage, would house up to 120,000 metric tons of high-level waste at capacity — more nuclear waste than currently exists in the country.

Udall, Luján and Haaland introduce bill to support tribal stewardship of wildlife

U.S. Senator Tom Udall introduced legislation this week to support the conservation of wildlife corridors on tribal lands in the United States. 

The Tribal Wildlife Corridors Act of 2019 would require federal entities such as the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to coordinate with indigenous nations on land management and wildlife corridor conservation. The bill is supported by U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland, along with seven Democratic U.S. Senators. 

The legacy of human activity on the planet has led to severe habitat loss and habitat fragmentation for millions of species. A recent report on biodiversity published by the United Nations found that activities such as farming, logging, fishing, poaching and mining have altered the planet’s ecosystems at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

RELATED: Tribes are leaders in wildlife management

Wildlife corridors are stretches of land that are not fragmented by human-made structures such as roads, fencing, or bridges and where wildlife can move freely. These corridors are becoming increasingly rare in certain areas in the U.S. and around the globe.

Mothers behind bars

For almost three years, Stephanie Baker’s young sons knew her as a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit. They could only visit her at Springer Correctional Center, passing through concrete walls and tall barbed fences, once every few months. It was difficult for their maternal great-grandparents, with whom they lived in Roswell, to make the five-hour drive to the prison. 

In nightly phone calls, the boys asked their mother when she was coming home. Her release had been delayed so many times in 2019 that she no longer discussed possible dates with them for fear of getting their hopes up.  So when she opened their front door in the early evening of Sept. 26, the sight of her was almost too much for them to bear.