Limitations on medical cannabis reciprocity heads to House floor

While two efforts to legalize and regulate recreational-use cannabis are coming down to the wire, legislation aimed at limiting medical cannabis reciprocity appears to be on a fast track to the governor’s desk. 

SB 340, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously on Wednesday.  

Ortiz y Pino, joined by New Mexico Department of Health officials, argued that the integrity of the state’s Medical Cannabis Program is at risk unless the law is changed to limit who can qualify as a reciprocal medical cannabis patient. 

“Our reciprocity arrangement has been taken advantage of by people who are using the internet to secure letters, not licenses, but letters from physicians in a third state,” Ortiz y Pino said. “California is the most likely, but it could be anywhere that they have loose medical cannabis programs.”

Aryan Showers with the Department of Health served as one of Ortiz y Pino’s expert witnesses and told the committee that medical cannabis reciprocity was intended to give medical cannabis patients enrolled in a “bonafide state program” the opportunity to buy, possess and consume medical cannabis in New Mexico. Instead, Showers said, there is currently a “loophole” that allows people to “circumvent the enrollment requirements” of New Mexico’s program. 

“We didn’t foresee this loophole, but it’s causing the program significant strain,” Showers said. “And we’re actually just concerned about the potential impact this could have on those New Mexicans who truly depend on the program for their medicine.”

There was no debate among committee members and only two members made supportive comments about the bill. 

Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, jokingly asked Ortiz y Pino where to find a $30 medical cannabis card. 

“I think there are places on the internet where you can get one very quickly,” Ortiz y Pino answered. “There’s only a five minute interview with a physician in California who has a very broad understanding of how medical cannabis can be used.”

This is the second consecutive year that Ortiz y Pino sponsored a bill to amend a law he helped pass in 2019 that made broad changes to the state’s medical cannabis statute.

Senate approves effort to clarify medical cannabis reciprocity

The New Mexico Senate approved on Monday a bill that would more narrowly define medical cannabis reciprocity by a 28-10 vote. 

Sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, SB 340 would specify that reciprocal cannabis patients in New Mexico cannot be a local resident and that reciprocal patients must reside in the state where they are approved by a medical professional to use medical cannabis. Ortiz y Pino said since New Mexico began honoring reciprocity with other states that have legalized medical cannabis, a number of people from Texas started obtaining authorization to use medical cannabis in California and then using that authorization in New Mexico as reciprocal patients. 

“This is a bill that is an effort at preventing some of the abuses that have begun creeping into our medical cannabis program in the state,” Ortiz y Pino said. 

While most of the comments from Senators were in support of the bill, Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who has also served as legal counsel for the medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, took issue with the proposal. 

Candelaria, who has also been open about being a medical cannabis patient, shared his struggles with PTSD as a victim of rape when he was a child. Candelaria also said he took issue with comments from Senate Republicans inferring that many of the 108,000 patients in New Mexico are using the state’s medical cannabis program as de facto legalization. 

“I encourage us to stop making assumptions about people’s motives,” Candelaria said. 

Candelaria also unsuccessfully offered up an amendment to the bill that would have increased the amount of cannabis qualified patients can buy each day. Currently, Department of Health rules allow patients to purchase 230 units in a rolling 90-day period. The department defines a unit as one gram of flower or bud or 250 milligrams of concentrate.

New Mexico Senate passes bill to reduce cap on small-loan interest rates

Legislation aimed to rein in what critics call predatory lending passed the state Senate after a tense two-hour debate Monday that sparked accusations of untruths and assertions the bill’s sponsors are oblivious to the tough realities confronted by people who live paycheck to paycheck. Opponents contended Senate Bill 66, which would cut the maximum interest rate on small loans to 36 percent from 175 percent, would do more harm than good for struggling New Mexicans by causing high-risk lenders to shut down. The measure passed on a 25-14 vote and will be considered next by the state House of Representatives. Expect plenty of dissension and disagreement if Tuesday’s Senate floor session is any indication of what lies ahead. One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, said about a third of the people who called him about the legislation were angry it would cap the interest at so high a rate.

Compromise redistricting bill advances unanimously from Senate committee

Lawmakers on the Senate Rules Committee came to a quick compromise Monday on a measure they hope will set the state’s sometimes controversial redistricting process on a smooth path via an independent, bipartisan panel of people to redraw voting district boundaries. A substitute bill introduced by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat, gained the committee’s unanimous approval, replacing two competing Senate bills — including one sponsored by Ivey-Soto. Monday’s deal came only after Ivey-Soto took a verbal swipe at critics who accused him of opposing the idea of an independent redistricting committee because his initial bill called for a committee composed of legislators. “I take a little personal some of the comments that have been made about the perspective of the Legislature in the redistricting process,” he said. 

He said his name had been used as a “barrier to independent redistricting. Shame on you, shame on you for doing that.”

With session clock ticking down, much work remains for New Mexico legislators

To some degree, the two contrasting actions that played out late Friday morning spoke volumes about this year’s 60-day legislative session. In the House of Representatives, members prepared to debate a contentious bill that would repeal a decades-old law making it a felony to perform an abortion. Around the same time, in her Santa Fe home, Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, looked at a huge pile of mail from constituents and pondered what lawmakers in her chamber still need to do with fewer than 30 days remaining in session. Later that day, as Rodriguez joined her colleagues on the Senate floor, the House voted to approve the abortion repeal measure, sending it to the governor’s desk. One down, hundreds to go.

Public ‘flying blind’ in New Mexico’s largely virtual legislative session

To hear House Speaker Brian Egolf tell it, public participation in this year’s largely virtual legislative session has been robust even if the doors of the state Capitol have been closed to everyday New Mexicans. In the second and third weeks of the 60-day session, more than 6,100 residents from 32 of the state’s 33 counties have voiced their opinions during committee hearings in the House of Representatives — up from the 2,400 who tuned in the first week. Egolf’s office touted the numbers Tuesday in a news release, declaring virtual participation “continues at a record-setting pace” in the House. But how many New Mexicans have been shut out? “It’s hard to quantify,” Egolf said.

Redistricting reform bills await movement in session

Three bills lighting the way for the creation of a redistricting plan in New Mexico are waiting for their moment in the legislative spotlight. 

But as the legislative clock moves closer to deadline — Thursday was the midway point of this year’s 60-day legislative session — supporters and sponsors of some of those bills worry they might not get a hearing in time. 

Kathleen Burke, project director of Fair Districts for New Mexico, an Albuquerque advocacy group pushing for a fair redistricting plan, said she doesn’t want to see Senate Bill 199 “go where legislation goes to die.” Like its mirror image in the House of Representatives — House Bill 211 — SB 199 wold create a seven-member redistricting commission and lay out requirements for choosing members. It also would require the commission to hold at least six public meetings to generate input and would give it the responsibility of coming up with a number of options for redistricting. The commission then would deliver those plans to the Legislature, which would act on redistricting during a special session later this year. The Legislature could select one plan without amendment and present it to the governor for approval.

Bipartisan redistricting plan moves forward in New Mexico

A House committee on Monday unanimously approved a bill that would allow the state to prepare for the major task of redrawing legislative districts based on population data from the 2020 census. 

Among other measures, House Bill 211, co-sponsored by Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives, creates a seven-member redistricting commission, lays out requirements for choosing those members, initiates a series of public meetings and gives the panel the responsibility of coming up with a number of options for redistricting. 

“By creating new rules and processes, this makes the process more engaging … with the public,” said Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences and one of the sponsors of the legislation. The bill, if signed into law, would allow the commission to adopt three to five district plans for four elected bodies — the state House and Senate, congressional districts, and the Public Education Commission. The commission then would deliver those plans to the Legislature, which would act on redistricting during a special session later this year. The Legislature could select one plan without amendment and present it to the governor for approval. If the Legislature does not select a district plan from any one set of plans, it will be required by law to select the plan the commission says best satisfies the requirements of the Redistricting Act.

Offensive phone calls disrupt House rules committee meeting

A House committee charged with creating rules for running the special session got an earful Wednesday when some telephone callers into the meeting criticized social protests and uttered racial epithets. The scene, legislators on both sides of the aisle said, pointed to the challenge of running a nontraditional session of the Legislature. Members of both political parties expressed outrage at the calls, which effectively ended any effort to take public comment by phone during Wednesday’s meeting of the House Rules and Order of Business Committee at the Roundhouse. “What we just heard is pretty disgusting,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. Rep. Jim Townsend, the minority leader in the House, agreed. 

“I am the strongest proponent of public involvement that there is, but when I hear comments like that … that’s uncalled for,” said Townsend, R-Artesia.

Democrats introduce police ‘use of force’ reporting requirements

Four Democratic state lawmakers plan to introduce legislation during the special session this week that they say would offer greater transparency and more accountability when it comes to police use of force. Amid calls from protesters in New Mexico and nationwide to defund law enforcement agencies and stop insulating officers from possible consequences over excessive and lethal use of force, state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and others have asked Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to prioritize the bill. The measure would increase oversight of officers’ use of force, including requiring reports to the district attorney, attorney general and Governor’s Office following an incident in which a law enforcement officer’s action causes “great bodily harm” or death to an individual. The proposal also would allow the top prosecutor of a judicial district where an incident has occurred to request selection of a district attorney from another jurisdiction to review the case and decide whether to bring charges against an officer. Investigations into police use of force would be handled by the state Department of Public Safety, according to the legislation, which has not yet been assigned a bill number.