Amended cannabis on tribal lands bill heads to the House

An amended version of a Senate bill that would allow agreements between the New Mexico Department of Health and Native American groups about medical cannabis was approved Wednesday by the Senate 25-16. SB 271, sponsored by Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, received plenty of scrutiny from both Democratic and Republican members. 

Most of the concern over Shendo’s bill was that it could result in tribal communities selling medical cannabis to non-tribal members, causing de facto legalization in areas of the state. 

That concern seemed to be shared by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. He successfully passed an amendment to the bill that specifies that any medical cannabis program a tribal community creates would only be for members.  

“Everytime I asked the sponsor of the bill about the necessity of this, he kept going back to the number of tribal members who participate in medical cannabis,” Ivey Soto said. If the intent is to open this to tribal members, this amendment allows that to happen. If the intent of this bill is to get around the plant count, get around the licences, to blow open the doors of the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, then you wouldn’t want this amendment.”

Shendo, a member of the Jemez Pueblo, said he would not support the amendment, although it’s unclear exactly who supported it as it came down to a voice vote. 

The bill heads to the House next. 

Shendo sponsored a similar bill last year that did not make it through both chambers before the session ended.

Lower profile cannabis bills headed for floor debates

With eight days left in the legislative session, passing a cannabis legalization bill is looking more and more like a long-shot. But there are three other bills related to cannabis and hemp that have been moving through committee assignments, some with little to no debate or opposition. 

The two cannabis legalization bills have stalled so far in both legislative chambers. The Senate version passed its first committee and is scheduled to be heard Wednesday afternoon in its second. The House version of legalization has yet to be heard in its first committee. Both bills are politically divisive and will likely be subjected to hours of public testimony and legislative debate.

Bill would protect cannabis patients who live on federal trust land

A New Mexico state senator is trying for a second time to pass a bill that would protect medical cannabis patients who live on tribal land. 

Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, said his SB 271 would protect patients from federal law enforcement scrutiny. 

“We have native patients that are under this program and so when they’re off the reservation they’re legal, but as soon as they get on the reservation, federal trust land, it’s illegal because the federal government still has that as a federal violation,” Shendo said. 

Shendo said he hopes that an agreement between the state Department of Health and tribal leaders will at least lower the chances of federal charges for medical cannabis patients who live on tribal land. 

“We had a meeting with the feds and they felt that having some agreement with the state would be really helpful,” Shendo said. 

The state’s medical cannabis law allows for patients to purchase up to about eight ounces of dried flower or buds in a rolling three month period. And even though the tribal land is physically in New Mexico, the state government has little say in what happens on or to that land. 

Shendo said he isn’t sure how many medical cannabis patients live on tribal land, but that the change is still long overdue. 

“This is an issue that we probably should have taken care of when the [Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use] act was enacted, but it wasn’t so we’re just trying to make that correction,” Shendo said. 

The Senate Committee’s Committee, which determines whether bills fit into the governor’s legislative agenda during 30-day sessions, has not ruled the bill germane yet. But, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive message earlier this week, authorizing the Senate to consider the bill. 

Shendo introduced a similar bill last year that only made it through one committee before the session ended. 

Lawmakers pass bill to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Goodbye, Christopher Columbus. New Mexico may observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead. The Senate voted 22-15 Friday to send Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a bill that would rename the holiday commemorating the Italian explorer. The legislation comes as the holiday that took off in the late 19th century as a celebration of Italian-American heritage has in recent decades spurred debate over the real legacy of a man who represents the beginning of European colonialism in the Americas and how best to tell a fuller story of the continent’s history. “I see this as a reconciliation process, not only as New Mexicans but as Americans,” said Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo.

Bill would freeze fracking permits while impacts studied

When you’re driving at night through Counselor, N.M., on U.S. 550 the horizon takes on a dusky illumination, almost like daylight, Samuel Sage said during a Monday news conference in Santa Fe. Bright light flares from natural gas being burned off as part of oil and gas production, which has become increasingly common in that area of Northwestern New Mexico, particularly since 2013, said Sage, a member of the Navajo Nation’s Counselor Chapter House. Sage was among several environmental advocates who gathered at the state Capitol in support of a bill that, if passed, would create a four-year moratorium on any new state permits for hydraulic fracturing — a type of deep horizontal drilling that injects high-pressured fluid below ground. The bill also outlines extensive reporting requirements for several state agencies related to the impacts of fracking. “All we want is clean air and clean water,” Sage said.

Handful of Senate Dems help Republicans defeat aid-in-dying bill

The state Senate on Wednesday night defeated a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. In a 22-20 vote, seven Democrats joined 15 Republicans to stop the measure. Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, sponsored Senate Bill 252 to allow people expected to die within six months to obtain a prescription for drugs meant to end their own lives. In addition, a patient would have to be deemed mentally competent by two doctors. The bill called for a mandatory 48-hour waiting period between the time the prescription was written and filled.

Dems back methane capture rules

Some New Mexico Democrats gathered Monday to express support for regulations to limit methane emissions from natural gas flaring and leaks, even as congressional Republicans are planning to repeal the rule on a federal level. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, called such a proposal a “triple win,” saying it would help businesses waste less methane that they could instead sell, cut  pollution and benefit  the state budget. The Santa Fe Democrat said that other states, like Colorado and Wyoming were already seeing benefits from methane capture rules. Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, noted that under questioning by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, “the American Petroleum Institute was unable to provide senators with a single shred of data that found smart methane regulations had any negative impacts on oil and gas jobs.”

State Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, echoed the two Representatives and brought up health impacts of natural gas leaks. “When I go visit my constituents at the various chapters of the Navajo communities, what they have to live with, not only the flaring, but the smell and the things you can’t see that impact their lives and that’s important for us to realize and understand the environment,” Shendo said.

Lobbyists spent more than $85,000 in first weeks of session

Members of New Mexico’s citizen Legislature only receive $164 per day for expenses, plus mileage, during the session. But there are other perks to the job. For instance, the industry group called Ski New Mexico last week handed out VIP membership cards to 110 of the 112 state lawmakers, entitling them to two free days of skiing at any of eight ski areas in the state. The total value of the cards was $27,500, according to a lobbyist expense report filed this week by George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico. That expense represented a large portion of the $85,000-plus that lobbyists and the organizations that hire them have reported spending on meals, parties, receptions and gifts for legislators and others so far in the session, which began just over two weeks ago.

The 13 primary races to watch tonight

While Democrats and Republicans in New Mexico began casting ballots weeks ago with early and absentee voting, today is election day where tens of thousands more are expected to cast their ballots. While much of the attention will be focused on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders duking it out in the presidential primary, there will be a number of down-ballot races with big implications going forward. We took a look at the thirteen races you need to watch tonight when polls close at 7:00 p.m.

Senate District 17

Democratic incumbent Sen. Mimi Stewart’s runs to retain the senate seat in SD17. In 2014, the Bernalillo County Commission appointed her to fill the vacancy left by Tim Keller when he became State Auditor. Former State Senator Shannon Robinson, who held the SD17 spot for 20 years before losing to Keller in 2008, will face Stewart and try to reclaim his old Senate seat.

New progressive group pushes in legislative races

A new progressive group is stepping into two legislative races in districts with large Native American populations. The Working Families Party announced support for two incumbents: Representative Wonda Johnson and Senator Benny Shendo. Both Democrats are facing a challenge in Tuesday’s primary against more conservative opponents. The organization is airing radio ads supporting the candidates. Former State Rep. Stephanie Maez told NM Political Report the Working Families Party chose to support Johnson and Shendo because of their past support for “progressive policy positions.”

She also said that the organization would add more endorsements for the general election.