State job opportunities limited for medical cannabis patients

Earlier this year, New Mexico legislators and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham overhauled the state’s medical cannabis statute. Updates to the law ranged from relatively simple definition changes to more significant changes like allowing consumption areas for cannabis patients. 

But the parts of the law that are supposed to protect patients from losing their jobs solely for being a patient in the program may also be hindering the nearly 79,000 cannabis patients in New Mexico from getting a job with the state. That’s because the law also protects employers by giving them enough autonomy to fire or not hire a cannabis patient for safety concerns or if the employer could lose federal funding for hiring a cannabis user. 

Jason Barker is a medical cannabis patient advocate and a patient himself. He said he started looking at job descriptions after the state announced a three-day “rapid hire event”scheduled for next week and aimed at hiring hundreds of new employees. But, Barker said, many of the jobs he’s qualified for are considered safety sensitive, which would require a pre-employment drug test.

State settles with five more behavioral health providers over 2013 funding freeze

The state settled with five more behavioral health providers who had sued after the state froze their access to Medicaid funding in 2013. At the time, the state said it had found credible allegations of fraud by the providers. The new settlements totaled $10 million and are the last of the ten lawsuits filed by providers over the funding freeze. These latest settlements were paid to Santa Maria El Mirador, the provider formerly known as Easter Seals El Mirador; Border Area Mental Health Services; Southwest Counseling Center, Inc.; Southern New Mexico Human Development, Inc.; and Families and Youth, Inc.

The state’s Attorney General cleared all providers that the Susana Martinez administration accused of fraud. The suspension caused a behavioral health crisis in New Mexico.

NM won’t provide driver’s license data to Trump administration

The state of New Mexico will not provide driver’s license data to the Trump administration. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Trump administration asked states to provide driver’s license information data in another effort to get citizenship data. The administration sought to get the information through the 2020 Census for use in redistricting in 2021, but lost a court battle over adding a question to the decennial census. According to the AP, at least 13 states have denied the Trump administration’s request, 17 others are still deciding and 17 states haven’t received a request yet, while three states did not respond to questions. A spokeswoman for the governor’s office told NM Political Report about the decision on Tuesday after she spoke with the state Taxation and Revenue Department, which oversees the state’s driver’s license program.

Lujan Grisham’s approval rating in new poll at 47 percent

A new poll shows nearly half of New Mexicans approve of the way Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is doing her job. The poll from Morning Consult finds Lujan Grisham’s approval rating at 47 percent, while 37 percent disapprove of her job performance. Another 16 percent have no opinion. Lujan Grisham took office at the beginning of the year after easily defeating Republican Steve Pearce. Lujan Grisham was previously a U.S. Representative from the state’s 1st Congressional District, which is centered on the Albuquerque area.

More questions than answers on how to reuse produced water

While fresh water supplies in the state are slowly dwindling, oil and gas activity generates millions of gallons of produced water each year. The state is currently deciding how best to regulate the use of treated produced water, while researchers, oil and gas producers and other companies are trying to find new uses for the wastewater. Produced water is a byproduct of the oil and gas extraction activities currently going on in two energy-generating sections of the state, the Permian Basin in the southeastern portion of the state, and the San Juan basin in the Four Corners area. The wastewater comes into contact with hydrocarbons and drilling constituents, and is generally considered contaminated. As the state gears up to hold a series of public meetings on recycling produced water throughout October, there are some serious question marks over the feasibility of using treated produced water in applications outside the oil and gas industry.

Judge: State still can’t deny medical cannabis cards to out-of-state residents

A judge reaffirmed his ruling that out-of-state residents are eligible for medical cannabis cards on Monday. State District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid again ordered the state Department of Health to provide medical cannabis cards to those non-New Mexico residents who qualify for the state’s program. The state had previously provided cards to three non-residents. But it had not given cards to other non-residents not part of the initial court filing. Monday, the judge also ordered DOH to begin giving cards to other non-residents who qualify for the program.

Dysfunction at the PRC puts New Mexico’s clean energy plan at risk

Dysfunction and a lack of expertise within the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) threaten to undermine the state’s ambitious plan to flip the switch from coal to reenewable power. 

The Energy Transition Act — the centerpiece of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s agenda to rein in greenhouse gas emissions — phases out coal, turbocharges solar and wind development, and provides funding to retrain displaced coal plant and mine workers. It has been hailed as one of the strongest climate measures in the country. 

But six months after Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law, its success appears jeopardized by the very regulatory body charged with overseeing its implementation. 

The powerful commission must vet every aspect of the plan: the closure of the San Juan Generating Station coal plant; the complex financing to pay for decommissioning and worker assistance; and every new energy project that will provide the replacement power. But when the first proposals came before the PRC in July, the commission chose to ignore the new law, leaving the state’s energy transition in limbo. The unusual move has sparked a political furor, pitting the PRC against the governor and Legislature and leading to calls for impeachment of three of the commissioners as well as a proposal by the governor to convert the PRC from an elected body to an appointed one. 

The law’s supporters say the commission’s handling of the plan reflects deep dysfunction that could slow the state’s renewables ramp-up and jeopardize aid for displaced workers. Lujan Grisham says she finds the PRC’s actions “baffling” and suspects that long-standing tensions between the commission and Public Service Co.

Amid back and forth court filings, DOH not issuing medical cannabis cards to non-residents

The issue of whether non-residents of New Mexico can enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program is still not settled. A flurry of three motions were filed in three days in a civil case over whether non-New Mexico residents are eligible for state medical cannabis cards. The New Mexico Department of Health filed a motion last week asking a state judge to reconsider his decision to compel the state to issue medical cannabis cards to anyone with a qualifying condition, regardless of where they live. On the same day, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and DOH jointly filed a motion asking a judge to stay, or hold off on, his order for DOH to issue cards to non-residents. Then, on Monday, the three petitioners who originally argued they were due medical cannabis cards even though they live outside New Mexico filed a motion calling for the program’s director to be held in contempt of court. 

The court case started in July when two Texas residents and an Arizona resident who is the CEO and president of a New Mexico medical cannabis asked a judge to force the state to issue the three petitioners medical cards.

Hundreds gather for tear-filled Charles Daniels memorial

Hundreds of people gathered Sunday morning to honor the life, career and accomplishments of the former Chief Justice Charles “Charlie” Daniels. 

As an early morning rain began to dissipate, friends, family and colleagues shuffled into Albuquerque’s Popejoy Hall to pay their respects. The crowd included a who’s who in political and legal circles. 

Daniels died September 1 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spoke at the memorial and said she first met Daniels through his passion for music, which he regularly played at bars and restaurants across the state.  

“I got to know what a kind and generous and funny person Charlie Daniels is,” Lujan Grisham said. 

The governor also dedicated September 15 to the memory of Daniels. 

Speakers fought through tears to tell heartfelt and funny stories about Daniels’ almost 50-year legal career. The theme of the morning was that Daniels was serious while simultaneously funny. 

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura recounted Daniels’ devotion to making sure the high court remained open to the public, despite financially difficult times for the state. “He modeled frugality by removing half of the lightbulbs in the Supreme Court’s halls, leaving us walking in the dark and writing on the back of scratch paper, using free pens that he picked up at banks and hotels, not just to save the state a few dollars, but to demonstrate that we were committed to do whatever we needed to do to keep the courts open and accessible,” Nakamura said. 

She added that he was usually the first person to arrive at the Supreme Court building, with little patience for inclimate weather excuses from others. 

“He often reminded both the justices as well as our court staff, ‘Pay attention to the laws of physics and don’t be a snow wussy,'” Nakamura said. 

In addition to his legal career, Daniels played in a band with other legal professionals called “Lawyers, Guns and Money” and for the past 20 years in a band called “The Incredible Woodpeckers.” Retired state District Judge Tommy Jewell and former bandmate of Daniels’ recounted a proposed band name Daniels came up with, illustrating the justice’s sense of humor. 

“We struggled with a name,” Jewell said.

NM governor intervenes in court case over medical cannabis cards

New Mexico’s governor has officially become a party in a legal battle over whether medical cannabis cards should be issued to out-of-state residents. 

On Wednesday, a state district judge approved Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s request to intervene in the case, which arose after a prominent medical cannabis producer challenged the state on wording in a state statute related to who can become a medical cannabis patient in New Mexico. 

In a motion to add Lujan Grisham as an intervening party, her lawyers argued that the governor’s office is better suited than the state Department of Health to address some issues in the case. 

Related: Cannabis legalization task force aims for compromise

“Public safety considerations such as the interstate transportation of marijuana, which is a violation of federal and state law, and diversion concerns are critical state policy matters,” the court filing read. 

Kenny Vigil, the director of the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, was originally named in court documents but Lujan Grisham’s office argued that Vigil cannot adequately represent the state. 

“[Vigil] lacks authority to address law enforcement concerns, approve regulatory action, or direct healthcare policy for our State,” the court filing read. “Thus, the significant public policy considerations interests at issue cannot be fully addressed by the current parties to this litigation and could be substantially affected or impaired.”

While at a task force convened by the governor to examine cannabis legalization, Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel said the issue is too complex for her department alone. 

“It’s such an important matter,” Kunkel said. “What it could impact is significant. It’s beyond the Department of Health.” 

A lawyer with the department told NM Political Report he could not speak for the governor’s office, but did say Lujan Grisham’s office took an interest in the case because it dealt with “interstate issues.”

The court case goes back to an attempt by New Mexico medical cannabis producer Ultra Health to encourage those who qualify as a medical cannabis patient but do not live in New Mexico to apply for a medical card. The company’s reasoning was that a law change removed the term “resident of New Mexico” and replaced it with “person” in the definition of “qualified patient.” 

Almost immediately, the Department of Health dismissed the idea that legislators intended to open the state’s Medical Cannabis Program to residents from other states.