Nearly every county in New Mexico, including the state’s most populous counties, are set to be in the turquoise tier, which has the least capacity restrictions. “It’s exciting what’s happening to the color of the state,” Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said, referring to the restrictions by county. He said that the success was largely due to vaccinations, but also easing of other criteria. This signals an even wider expansion of the state’s reopening as vaccinations increase and as cases and hospitalizations remain at a plateau. The advancement to turquoise could happen by either hitting all three guidelines on categories (fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 per day, a test positivity rate of 7.5 percent or below and a vaccination rate at or above 40 percent) or by being at the green level (which requires two of the categories) for two consecutive periods.
Following concerns from members of the environmental community, the New Mexico Environment Department removed the exemptions from the oil and gas sector ozone precursor rule for stripper and marginal wells. The department released the ozone precursor rule Thursday and filed a petition with the Environmental Improvement Board to review it. A public hearing is anticipated this fall. If approved by the seven-member board, the rules would likely go into effect in early 2022. It is intended to work in conjunction with a methane waste rule that the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department already finalized.
President Joe Biden has called for preserving 30 percent of the lands and waters in the United States by 2030 and, on Thursday, his administration released a report outlining how this could be accomplished. The report released on Thursday, called Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful 2021, states that three problems must be addressed to protect lands and waters—the disappearance of nature, climate change and inequitable access to the outdoors. The America the Beautiful report lists building more parks and outdoor spaces in areas with limited access to nature as one of the tools to reaching that goal. The America the Beautiful report released Thursday outlines eight principles:
Pursuing a collaborative and inclusive approach to conservationConserving lands and waters for the benefit of all peopleSupporting locally-led and designed conservation effortsHonoring tribal sovereignty and supporting the priorities of tribal nationsPursuing approaches that create jobs and support healthy communitiesHonoring private property rights and supporting voluntary stewardship efforts by landownersUsing science as a guideEmphasizing flexibility and adaptive approaches while building on existing tools and strategies
Greg Peters, public lands and wildlife advocate for Conservation Voters of New Mexico, said in an email to NM Political Report that state action will be needed to make the 30 percent by 2030 goal a reality. Peters said New Mexico can build on the success of landmark legislation like the Energy Transition Act, the creation of the Outdoor Recreation Division and the Outdoor Equity Fund.
Two New Mexico state agencies confirmed on Wednesday in a letter that medical cannabis purchase limits will not increase, as it was previously suggested last month by a group of medical cannabis producers.
Related: NM medical cannabis patients should not expect increased purchase limits any time soon
In an official response to the group of five medical cannabis producers, New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Tracie Collins and state Regulation and Licensing Department Superintendent Linda Trujillo wrote that until commercial cannabis sales begin next year medical cannabis patients’ purchases will be limited to roughly eight ounces of cannabis in a rolling 90-day period. The Medical Cannabis Program, which is currently overseen by DOH, limits purchases to 230 units in 90-days. The program defines a unit as one gram of dried, smokable cannabis or 0.2 grams of cannabis concentrates or derivatives.
Even after commercial cannabis sales start, Collins and Trujillo wrote, medical cannabis purchases will be constrained, but patients could still opt to buy more cannabis through commercial sales.
“Until such time as commercial cannabis activity is permitted by the Cannabis Control Division, qualified patients will remain limited to medical purchases made pursuant to the [Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act], i.e., purchases in quantities that are within the 90-day adequate supply purchase limit, as specified in Section 6(K) of the [Cannabis Regulation Act],” the two wrote.
The section of the Cannabis Regulation Act the two department heads referred to states that medical cannabis producers “shall continue to operate under rules promulgated” by DOH until RLD issues new rules. But Collins and Trujillo also said they soon plan to announce proposed rule changes for producers that could include production limits for both medical and recreational-use cannabis.
“That rulemaking will include revisions to existing producer plant limits, although the content of the proposed rules has not yet been determined.
Interpretation of the law
Collins and Trujillo wrote the letter in response to a letter from medical cannabis producers Ultra Health, G&G Genetics, Budding Hope, Kure and Sacred Garden, which was sent on April 14.
The group of producers argued that on June 29, when the Cannabis Regulation Act goes into effect, medical cannabis patients should be allowed to purchase two ounces of dried cannabis, 16 grams of extract and 0.8 grams of edible cannabis at a time, as the new law states.
With no limit on the number of purchases in a day, a patient could purchase double the amount that is allowed under the current law in a matter of eight trips to a dispensary. So, the producers reasoned, the state should consider an increase in production limits as soon as possible.
Sen. Martin Heinrich said this week reinstating methane regulations that former President Donald Trump rolled back will buy time to take the next steps to addressing the climate crisis.
The Senate approved revoking the rollback of the methane regulations about a week ago and the House of Representatives, where the Democrats have the majority, will consider the measure this month. Related: Senate votes to reverse Trump’s rollback of methane regulations
Looking forward, Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, said a federal infrastructure package should have robust investments in things like transmission, which is needed to move renewable energy from one area to another. “More and more of our economy is going to be run off of electricity as opposed to combustion,” he said. “That means we have to be able to move electrons from where we have renewable energy to where that energy is consumed. We don’t have enough transmission to do that today.”
Heinrich met with NM Political Report while in Aztec, where he presented a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol to the San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas for efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
A fungus that causes the often-fatal white-nose syndrome in bats has been found in two caves in eastern New Mexico. These caves are located within the Bureau of Land Management’s Roswell Field Office in De Baca and Lincoln counties. BLM Wildlife Biologist Marikay Ramsey said New Mexico has not had any cases of white nose syndrome in bats in the past and the biologists will need to do further testing to determine if the disease is present in the state. That means euthanizing a bat and analyzing it in a lab. However, she said the fungus was found on cave walls and evidence of the disease were seen on certain bats.
On Thursday, the first openly transgender person to seek a New Mexico legislative seat, Bunnie Benton Cruse, announced her intent to replace Rep. Melanie Stansbury for the state House. Stansbury is the Democratic nominee in the June 1 special election for the state’s 1st Congressional District, a seat Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland vacated when she left the U.S. House of Representatives to take the federal position. Benton Cruse will apply to the Bernalillo County Commission, which will decide who to appoint to HD 28 if Stansbury wins June 1 and leaves the seat. Benton Cruse said she went public with her intention to apply for the HD 28 seat before the June 1 special election because she believes Stansbury will win. Marshall Martinez, executive director of Equality New Mexico, called Benton Cruse’s decision to seek Stansbury’s seat “historic.”
“It really is super historic,” Martinez said.
When it comes to outdoor recreation, departing from designated trails can have negative impacts on the areas. Axie Navas, the director of the state’s Outdoor Recreation Division, said mountain bicycles, hikers and off-highway vehicles can all leave their tracks across the landscapes. But when the driver of an off-highway vehicle, like an ATV or dirt bike, heads off of established trails, it is much more noticeable, according to Roger Pattison, a board member of the industry group endeavOR New Mexico. Pattison has decades of experience with OHVs. He said a single person driving an OHV off of the established trail leaves obvious tracks that can result in more people following without realizing that it is not an official trail.
As much of New Mexico faces exceptional drought conditions, the Interstate Stream Commission authorized its chairman to ask the Department of Interior for financial support. The commission approved delegating that authority to commission chairman during its meeting on Friday. The chairman will work with State Engineer John D’Antonio to request funding for both long-term and short-term drought relief. The short-term relief could be something like assistance for farmers, said ISC Director Rolf Schmidt-Peterson. “Help them make it through this year so that the economic impacts are not so severe that they can no longer farm,” he said.
The head of the department tasked with regulating recreational-use cannabis in New Mexico said medical cannabis patients should not expect purchase limits to be expanded, despite a letter from a group of New Mexico medical cannabis producers suggesting otherwise.
Last week, during an interview for the collaborative podcast Growing Forward, New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department Superintendent Linda Trujillo said until commercial cannabis sales begin next April, medical cannabis patients will still be limited to 230 units in a rolling 90-day period. The Medical Cannabis Program, overseen by the state’s Department of Health, defines a unit as one gram of smokable cannabis, or 0.2 grams of THC in extracts, derivatives or edible cannabis products. Representatives of both DOH and RLD confirmed that both agencies agree that medical cannabis purchase limits will continue to be determined by DOH. The Cannabis Regulation Act also seems to confirm that even after commercial cannabis sales start next year, medical cannabis purchase limits will be determined by the DOH.
Earlier this month a group of five medical cannabis producers sent a letter to RLD and DOH, essentially arguing for an increase in production limits. The Cannabis Regulation Act, which goes into effect on June 29, will limit recreational-use cannabis purchases to two ounces at a time, but will not limit the number of purchases that can be made.
If all goes according to plan, the state will fully reopen by the end of June—and in the meantime, much of the state will be on the least restrictive, turquoise level after newly announced changes. “We are conquering COVID,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a press conference on Wednesday in which she and top state health officials announced sweeping changes to the state’s COVID-19 rules, citing the state’s high number of COVID-19 vaccinations. The state will lift most restrictions, including capacity restrictions, when it hits 60 percent of those age 16 or older who are vaccinated, which the state projects will happen by the end of June. Beginning this Friday, the state will use less strict numbers for positivity rates and cases per capita in each county as well as including vaccination data by county. Lujan Grisham made the announcement Wednesday and said she overruled the medical team for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic to move it forward to Friday instead of Wednesday, May 4 when the county-by-county, color-coded update was scheduled to take place.