NM Senate leadership clears senator of ethics violation allegation

A dust-up between an outspoken New Mexico state senator and a state cabinet secretary over ethics related to cannabis legislation has come to a resolution, at least temporarily. 

According to a letter from Senate leadership last month, sent to New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Tracie Collins, there will be no legislative investigation of Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, over his professional involvement with a prominent medical cannabis business.  

In the letter, sent on May 19, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, wrote that she, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe and Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca of Belen determined there was no reason for the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee to investigate the issue further. 

“I convened a meeting with Senators Wirth and Baca to review and deliberate the allegations and other information contained in your complaint and in the State Ethics Commission’s dismissal and referral,” Stewart wrote. “After our extensive evaluation, we have determined that the complaint and information did not warrant further investigation by the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee, and therefore the complaint is dismissed.”

Four days after this year’s regular session and six days before a special session, Collins filed an ethics complaint with the newly formed State Ethics Commission, alleging that Candelaria  violated the state Governmental Conduct Act by voting on a bill that would have limited medical cannabis patient reciprocity. Candelaria, who is also an attorney, represented medical cannabis producer Ultra Health months prior, challenging DOH over the same issue. 

In September 2020, the Medical Cannabis Program, which is overseen by DOH, issued a directive that medical cannabis reciprocity only applied to patients with authorization from their respective home state to use medical cannabis. The department was attempting to close what it saw as a loophole in which Texas residents reportedly received recommendations from doctors in California and then crossed state lines to buy medical cannabis in New Mexico. By October 2020, Candelaria, on behalf of Ultra Health, successfully petitioned a state judge to overrule the department’s emergency rule change.

A group of inmates sue state and Corrections Department over medical grievance system

A group of state prisoners alleged a corrupt medical grievance system violates their constitutional rights and has contributed to a bone epidemic in New Mexico prisons in a lawsuit. The 18 prisoners filed a lawsuit last month in state district court against the state, the New Mexico Corrections Department and members of its leadership including Corrections Department Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero alleging that a corrupt medical grievance system ignores inmates’ health problems, including after they begin to deteriorate and that officers retaliate against the inmates for filing medical grievances and talking to attorneys. Nine of the inmates involved in the suit developed osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone, or sepsis, a life-threatening condition that results from an infection, according to the complaint. Tripp Stelnicki, director of communications for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, referred NM Political Report to Eric Harrison, public information officer for New Mexico Corrections Department. Harrison wrote that the department does not comment on active litigation.

New Mexico Supreme Court: State not required to compensate businesses for public health closures

Businesses that were ordered to close during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic do not have a claim for government compensation, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled.  

The unanimous opinion, written by Justice Shannon Bacon, states that public health orders from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state Department of Health did not constitute either a physical or regulatory “taking” of property that would warrant compensation from the state. 

“Occupancy limits and closure of certain categories of businesses, while certainly harsh in their economic effects, are directly tied to the reasonable purpose of limiting the public’s exposure to the potentially life-threatening and communicable disease, and thus can be deemed ‘reasonably necessary,”’ Bacon wrote. 

Before Lujan Grisham’s office asked the high court to take the case, business owners who sought compensation after emergency public health orders forced them to close their doors to the public filed a number of suits around the state in lower courts. Lujan Grisham’s office asked the state supreme court to decide whether a public health order to close businesses constitutes a regulatory taking. 

Another question posed to the court was whether a portion of state law that specifically mentions compensation in public health emergencies applied to all types of businesses or just medical companies. The group of businesses seeking compensation argued that the state Public Health Emergency Response Act’s provision on compensation includes non-medical businesses with the words “any other property.” But the state supreme court seemed to agree with the governor’s office argument that ejusdem generis, or a Latin term meaning of the same kind, applied to the words “any other property,” essentially meaning any other medical or medically related company  taken by the state to help fight a public health emergency. 

“Because a public health emergency can affect the entire population, anyone and everyone could be a potential claimant under the Real Parties’ interpretation, even under far less restrictive measures than the [public health orders],” Bacon wrote. “It is simply not credible that the Legislature in enacting the PHERA intended for such a potential raid on the public wealth while simultaneously granting broad powers to protect the public health.” Further, the high court also ruled that anyone seeking compensation under PHERA has to first follow the law’s procedure for a claim, which means the claim has to first go through the state Attorney General’s Office.

Citizen lawmakers find work in new cannabis industry

Cannabis legalization in New Mexico was sold as, amongst other things, a job creator. Those who are eyeing the new industry are navigating proposed rules and regulations and making plans for real space, how many plants they will be able to grow and how to get their applications approved by the state. Now there seems to be a niche market for cannabis adjacent businesses, particularly those aimed at guiding business owners through the process. 

Even prior to the passage of the Cannabis Regulation Act in the New Mexico Legislature, a handful of consulting and legal firms specializing in cannabis regulations and law existed. But since the Cannabis Regulation Act passed, there are at least three elected officials who are currently, or plan to, sell their knowledge to those interested in getting in at the ground floor of what is expected to become a booming new industry. 

That raises questions about the ethics of state and local lawmakers selling their services in an industry they sometimes have a hand at creating. But some of those elected officials who operate cannabis adjacent businesses say they are keeping things ethical but that the dilemma could be avoided if lawmakers are paid an actual wage.    

On the evening of March 31, which was the last day of New Mexico’s special legislative session, the state Senate was deep in a debate over cannabis legalization.

Scientists say dire climate change scenarios should be taken into account in Colorado River Basin water management

Climate change threatens the availability of water in the Colorado River basin and water managers need to take steps now to prepare, the director of the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico John Fleck and Brad Udall, the senior water and climate research scientist at the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, argue in a recent editorial. The two scientists published the editorial in last Friday’s edition of the research journal Science. “We share the concern that the decision makers are not doing what we think needs to be done to fully incorporate the risks of climate change in the decisions that have to be made over the next few years on the Colorado River,” Fleck said in an interview with NM Political Report. The editorial starts by highlighting a hydrologist’s analysis in 1920 that found the Colorado River could not support future water demands. “No one heeded his warning,” Fleck and Udall wrote.