Top NM cannabis regulator on rule changes: Substantive changes require a new hearing

There are less than two months left before the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department is required by law to start accepting recreational-use cannabis business applications. But before the department can do that, it needs to finalize rules that outline its own standards and requirements for cannabis businesses. 

The department held a public rulemaking hearing last month where dozens of people raised concerns of large cannabis growers potentially exploiting local water rights and excess water use, particularly in areas dependent on acequias. Many of the hundreds who spoke at the hearing also asked logistical questions, all of which the hearing officer said would be answered by the department outside the hearing. 

Last week RLD announced it would conduct another public hearing for an updated set of proposed rules. In a phone interview last week, RLD Superintendent Linda Trujillo told NM Political Report that the new set of rules include changes based on previous public comments as well as new proposals. 

Limits on production limits, for example, were added to the new proposals, but the department also added a proposal for provisional licenses after many people raised concerns about a requirement that physical space is secured before applying for a cannabis business license. 

The following is a conversation between NM Political Report and Trujillo, which has been edited slightly for clarity and brevity. NM Political Report: Can you explain to readers why RLD is doing another round or rules, separate from the last batch?

State Oil Conservation Division can issue fines for spills

Soon the state’s Oil Conservation Division will have the ability to issue civil fines when oil and natural gas industry spills occur. The Oil Conservation Commission approved a final order to amend the state’s release rule during a meeting on Thursday. This unanimous vote came approximately one month after it was discussed and approved during a two-day hearing. The rule change will be printed in the New Mexico Register in August prior to taking effect. The change comes as a result of a petition filed in March by WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Division, which oversees the OCD, seeking amendments to the release rule.

Old oil fields may be ideal for carbon sequestration

When looking for places to sequester carbon, old oil fields may be a promising choice, according to a new study published in the journal Geology. Geophysicists from Stanford University analyzed the Delaware Basin – a sub-basin of the Permian Basin in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico – and found that injecting substances into older oil fields is less likely to cause earthquakes than if the substances are injected into a newer oil field. The geophysicists, No’am Dvory and Mark Zoback, noticed that the southern part of the basin had more seismic activity than the northern part, which has a long history of extraction. The seismic activity is primarily connected to salt water disposal, which occurs throughout the basin, according to Dvory. After creating models, the duo discovered that pore pressures in geologic formations in the northern part of the basin were lower.

San Juan Generating Station taken offline after cooling tower collapse

Unit one of the San Juan Generating Station was taken off line last week after a cooling tower collapsed, sources familiar with the incident told NM Political Report. The cooling tower is necessary to operate the unit and, unless it is repaired, the unit will not be able to produce power for Public Service Company of New Mexico and Tucson Electric Power. The two utilities share ownership of the unit and each receives 170 megawatts of power. No one was injured during the June 30 collapse, which came almost exactly one year before the state’s largest utility plans to end operations of the power plant. The plant was idle on the morning of July 6 and neither unit one nor unit four were producing power.

Paid sick leave law will go into effect in 2022

On Thursday most bills that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law earlier this year went into effect but the one that did not yet is the Healthy Workplaces Act. The Healthy Workplaces Act, or paid sick leave, provides all private sector employees up to 64 hours of paid time off each year, regardless of the size of the business where the employee works. Employees will accrue one hour off for every 30 hours worked. Related: Paid sick leave bill heads to Guv’s desk

But, the law doesn’t go into effect until July 1, 2022. Miles Tokunow, an OLÉ community organizer who worked on the original bill, said delaying the start date of the law until next year was a concession made to the business community to give employers time to prepare for it.

Advocates: SCOTUS decision emphasizes need for more LGBTQ protections

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Fulton v. the City of Philadelphia is not likely to a impact the New Mexico LGBTQ community, legal experts and advocates have said. Fulton v. the City of Philadelphia asked the Supreme Court to decide if Catholic Social Services (CSS) could continue its contract with that city to help find foster families even though the city said it couldn’t because CSS discriminates against same sex couples in its fostering application. The Supreme Court heard the case last fall and when the U.S. Congress was considering Justice Amy Coney Barrett for nomination to the bench, members of the LGBTQ community in New Mexico worried that a more conservative bench could overturn precedent and allow discrimination, which in turn could have a ripple effect in New Mexico. Related: U.S. Supreme Court could roll back LGBTQ equality

But, Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said the court’s decision in June was so narrow it would only apply to this particular case wouldn’t likely have an impact in New Mexico. “I disagree with the finding but what the court said is, because the city contract contained a mechanism for offering individual discretion to the agencies, the court held the city could not refuse to extend the contract to Catholic Social Services,” she said.

OCD has issued 23 complaints resulting in fines against oil and gas companies

The Oil Conservation Division of the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department regained the ability to fine oil and gas companies that were not complying with state laws a little more than a year ago, and officials say this has paid off. Since February of 2020, the OCD has filed 23 complaints, resulting in $263,000 in penalties that go to the state’s general fund, according to a press release from EMNRD. Of those complaints, nine have been resolved. These complaints are only the formal enforcement actions that assess penalties against operators. In addition to those complaints, the OCD also issues field citations.

As water levels drop in Elephant Butte, Reclamation prepares for conditions not seen since the 1950s

Recent rains have brought some relief to Elephant Butte reservoir in southern New Mexico, but the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is still preparing for low levels that have not been seen since the 1950s. Mary Carlson, a spokesperson for the BOR, said three decades of drought conditions where dry years have not been offset by multiple years of good precipitation have had a negative impact on reservoirs throughout the state—and Elephant Butte is no exception. Elephant Butte provides the state with a wide range of economic benefits from attracting tourists to providing farmers and ranchers with irrigation water. Located north of Truth or Consequences in Sierra County, the state’s largest reservoir stores water for southern New Mexico and Texas and is an important component of the Rio Grande Compact. As of Tuesday, the reservoir was at just 7.3 percent of capacity.

New Mexico lifts pandemic restrictions

The state’s pandemic restrictions ended on Thursday, marking the end of restrictions that have been in place for over 470 days. The state first put occupancy rules in place last March, when the state recorded its first cases of COVID-19. Since then, the state has reported 205,542 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,340 deaths related to COVID-19. The reopening means that all capacity restrictions will be lifted and all businesses can operate at 100 percent capacity. There is also no longer any limit on mass gatherings, indoor or outdoor.

State takes first steps to establish adult-use cannabis regulations

On the first day of legalized, recreational-use cannabis in New Mexico the department set to oversee the new industry held a rulemaking hearing. 

During the hearing, held by the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department and its Cannabis Control Division, a long list of stakeholders shared their concerns about water conservation, racial and social equity and transparency. But the public comment included nearly as many questions for the department as there were concerns. 

As New Mexico struggles with yet another drought this year, many who spoke at the meeting raised concerns about large cannabis companies adding to the state’s ongoing water problems. 

Alejandría Lyons, the environmental justice organizer with the Southwest Organizing Project said she and the organization want to see more water-use oversight to protect the generations-old family farms across the state. 

“We worry about our acequias, we worry about our farmers who have already been asked not to water, to fallow their fields,” Lyons said. “And more importantly, we are very worried about the oversight. The Office of the State Engineer is already at capacity, and we fear that we need higher regulation to prevent illegal water use, especially in a drought year, as we’re seeing right now.”

Jaimie Park, the policy coordinator and staff attorney for the New Mexico Acequia Association said that although the Cannabis Regulation Act details water requirements like showing proof of access to water or water rights, she and the association would like to see deliberate rules regarding legal access to water. 

“It’s really important that the regulatory language mirror the statutory language so that this important water protection mandate is lawfully and meaningfully implemented through these draft rules,” Park said. 

Park added that she and the association submitted written comments with suggestions that RLD and the Cannabis Control Division add stringent water reporting requirements for cannabis cultivators. 

One of the major selling points during the special legislative session that resulted in the newly effective Cannabis Regulation Act was social justice and equity. The bill’s sponsors argued that legalization should also include a minimally restrictive path for New Mexicans to enter the industry.