Study: New Mexico has among highest rates for parental deaths due to COVID-19

New Mexico ranks as one of the states with the highest rates for parental deaths caused by the disease, with 341 children per 100,000 who have lost a caregiver due to COVID-19, according to a study 

A group called the Covid Collaborative, made up of experts in health and other fields, produced a study on the mental health challenges U.S. children face after losing a caregiver due to the pandemic. Among other recommendations, the collaborative says that to identify and help the children who have lost a caregiver due to COVID-19 with both behavioral health needs and financial aid, a COVID-Bereaved Children Fund should be implemented. For children who have lost a caregiver due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the collaborative recommends the federal government create a $2 billion to $3 billion bereavement fund. According to the study, 167,000 children nationally lost a parent or other caregiver due to the respiratory disease. New Mexico has experienced 7,116 reported deaths due to COVID-19 over the last two years, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.

Mystery surrounds the last cannabis production license DOH granted

Recreational-use cannabis dispensaries in New Mexico are slated to open their doors in about five months, if not sooner. Medical cannabis dispensaries, many of which have been in operation for years, may end up feeling the brunt of an expected run on cannabis products next year, but legacy cannabis cultivators could have an advantage over those who are still in the queue, waiting for their applications to be approved. 

While the applicants currently waiting for approval cannot start growing or manufacturing cannabis, medical cannabis cultivation companies that have been licensed for years can start ramping up production in anticipation for next year.  

Some of those businesses that are awaiting approval have also, over the years, been waiting for a chance to break into the medical cannabis industry, but were repeatedly told the state was not accepting applications for medical cannabis production, a term New Mexico regulators use for cultivation. The more than two dozen producers who have historically produced medical cannabis are often colloquially referred to as “legacy producers.” But for one producer, the term “legacy” is somewhat of a misnomer. Generation Health, along with 33 other medical cannabis producers, got a fast track through the recreational-use licensing process. The idea was that since the legacy producers were due for license renewals over the summer, they would be re-licensed through the Regulation and Licensing Department, which largely took over cannabis regulatory duties from the state’s Department of Health after the Cannabis Regulation Act went into effect on June 29, 2021. 

But Generation Health had only been licensed as a medical cannabis producer for about 24 hours before that jurisdictional switch happened.

State crosses 5,000 COVID-19 deaths

State health officials announced on Monday that New Mexico reached 5,000 COVID-19 related deaths. The news on Monday came as the state announced 15 additional deaths related to COVID-19 on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, for a total of 5,002 COVID-19 related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in March of last year. “These aren’t just numbers – they are our family members, friends, and neighbors, and we grieve for them and their families,” New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Dr. David Scrase said. 

According to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker, New Mexico has the 20th-highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita, with 238 per 100,000 residents. The state’s latest mortality update, from last week, showed that over 2,200 deaths were among those 75 or older, nearly 1,200 among those 65-74 and over 1,200 among those 45-64. The mortality update, along with other epidemiological reports, are usually released in the middle of the week.

Employees seek to add whistleblower complaint to existing suit against NM cannabis regulators

Four state employees who initially filed a lawsuit against the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department over where they were assigned to work have asked the judge in the case to allow more claims to be added. The four plaintiffs filed a motion last week to amend their suit to include allegations that RLD and its Cannabis Control Division violated the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act. Matilde Colomo, Matthew Peralta, Martinik Gonzales and Jude Vigil claim, in their proposed amended complaint, that their bosses violated state law by ignoring concerns raised by employees regarding an illegal cannabis grow, moldy cannabis and an edible cannabis product that allegedly caused a consumer to have an “adverse reaction.”  

The judge in the case still must approve the filing of the amended complaint for it to move forward and according to the new filing, RLD opposes the motion. 

The four employees previously worked for the state Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program until Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Cannabis Regulation Act, which essentially led to the four plaintiffs moving to RLD. The four employees alleged in the initial complaint that they were forced to report to Santa Fe three times a week, whereas they worked in Albuquerque under DOH. Now they are asking the court to consider additional allegations against the state. 

According to the four plaintiffs, about two weeks after they were told they would have to report to a new office, RLD received a “consumer complaint” about mold in a cannabis product.

DOH: Pregnant people should get vaccinated to prevent severe illness

The New Mexico Department of Health is encouraging women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant to get vaccinated because COVID-19 during pregnancy can lead to complications. DOH issued a statement Thursday reminding the public the importance of vaccinations against COVID-19 for pregnant people. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued guidance that vaccines are safe for pregnant people. The overall risk for severe illness is low, according to the CDC, but pregnant and recently pregnant people are more likely to suffer severe illness from COVID-19 when compared to those who are not pregnant.   

Severe illness can include hospitalization, intensive care, ventilator use or other breathing assistance and, possibly, death, according to the statement. The CDC issued a warning that pregnant people who contract COVID-19 are at an increased risk for preterm birth and could be at an increased risk for other adverse pregnancy outcomes comparable to pregnant people who do not contract COVID-19.

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.

Medical cannabis patient asks judge to rule on purchase limits

A New Mexico medical cannabis patient is challenging state rules for medical cannabis purchase limits. 

Jason Barker, a medical cannabis patient and advocate, filed a request in Santa Fe’s First Judicial District Court earlier this month, asking a judge to compel the state’s Medical Cannabis Program and Cannabis Control Division to allow medical cannabis patients to purchase the same amount of cannabis as commercial cannabis customers will be allowed to purchase early next year. 

Barker’s lawyer, Jacob Candelaria, is also a New Mexico state senator and has represented medical cannabis patients and producers in the past. One of Candelaria’s clients in the past has been medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, which has a history of filing lawsuits against the state over medical cannabis rules and regulations. Ultra Health’s president and CEO Duke Rodriguez told NM Political Report that the company has offered financial support for Barker’s case. 

“It’s an important patients’ rights issue in which we fully agree with Mr. Barker and his attorney, so we would be shirking our responsibility not to offer support,” Rodriguez said. “I am fully expecting we will not be the only licensed producer offering support on the matter.”

Candelaria said he could not discuss the issue of payment for his services, but stressed that his client in the matter is Barker and not Ultra Health. 

In a statement Candelaria accused the state of being more concerned with tax revenue than with medical cannabis patients’ well-being. 

“State regulators are trying to unlawfully discriminate against my client, and deny all medical cannabis patients the rights afforded to them under the Cannabis Regulation Act,” Candelaria said. “The law is clear, all medical cannabis patients may purchase at least two-ounces of medical cannabis at any one time, tax free, beginning on June 29, 2021.

State agencies confirm medical cannabis purchase limits will not increase anytime soon

Two New Mexico state agencies confirmed on Wednesday in a letter that medical cannabis purchase limits will not increase, as it was previously suggested last month by a group of medical cannabis producers. 

Related: NM medical cannabis patients should not expect increased purchase limits any time soon

In an official response to the group of five medical cannabis producers, New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Tracie Collins and state Regulation and Licensing Department Superintendent Linda Trujillo wrote that until commercial cannabis sales begin next year medical cannabis patients’ purchases will be limited to roughly eight ounces of cannabis in a rolling 90-day period. The Medical Cannabis Program, which is currently overseen by DOH, limits purchases to 230 units in 90-days. The program defines a unit as one gram of dried, smokable cannabis or 0.2 grams of cannabis concentrates or derivatives. 

Even after commercial cannabis sales start, Collins and Trujillo wrote, medical cannabis purchases will be constrained, but patients could still opt to buy more cannabis through commercial sales. 

“Until such time as commercial cannabis activity is permitted by the Cannabis Control Division, qualified patients will remain limited to medical purchases made pursuant to the [Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act], i.e., purchases in quantities that are within the 90-day adequate supply purchase limit, as specified in Section 6(K) of the [Cannabis Regulation Act],” the two wrote. 

The section of the Cannabis Regulation Act the two department heads referred to states that medical cannabis producers “shall continue to operate under rules promulgated” by DOH until RLD issues new rules. But Collins and Trujillo also said they soon plan to announce proposed rule changes for producers that could include production limits for both medical and recreational-use cannabis. 

“That rulemaking will include revisions to existing producer plant limits, although the content of the proposed rules has not yet been determined. 

Interpretation of the law

Collins and Trujillo wrote the letter in response to a letter from medical cannabis producers Ultra Health, G&G Genetics, Budding Hope, Kure and Sacred Garden, which was sent on April 14. 

The group of producers argued that on June 29, when the Cannabis Regulation Act goes into effect, medical cannabis patients should be allowed to purchase two ounces of dried cannabis, 16 grams of extract and 0.8 grams of edible cannabis at a time, as the new law states. 

With no limit on the number of purchases in a day, a patient could purchase double the amount that is allowed under the current law in a matter of eight trips to a dispensary. So, the producers reasoned, the state should consider an increase in production limits as soon as possible.

NM medical cannabis patients should not expect increased purchase limits any time soon

The head of the department tasked with regulating recreational-use cannabis in New Mexico said medical cannabis patients should not expect purchase limits to be expanded, despite a letter from a group of New Mexico medical cannabis producers suggesting otherwise.  

Last week, during an interview for the collaborative podcast Growing Forward, New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department Superintendent Linda Trujillo said until commercial cannabis sales begin next April, medical cannabis patients will still be limited to 230 units in a rolling 90-day period. The Medical Cannabis Program, overseen by the state’s Department of Health, defines a unit as one gram of smokable cannabis, or 0.2 grams of THC in extracts, derivatives or edible cannabis products. Representatives of both DOH and RLD confirmed that both agencies agree that medical cannabis purchase limits will continue to be determined by DOH. The Cannabis Regulation Act also seems to confirm that even after commercial cannabis sales start next year, medical cannabis purchase limits will be determined by the DOH. 

Earlier this month a group of five medical cannabis producers sent a letter to RLD and DOH, essentially arguing for an increase in production limits. The Cannabis Regulation Act, which goes into effect on June 29, will limit recreational-use cannabis purchases to two ounces at a time, but will not limit the number of purchases that can be made.

Medical cannabis producer loses license

The New Mexico Department of Health has officially revoked the license to grow and manufacture medical cannabis from a Santa Fe-based company that experienced an explosion last year, resulting in injuries.  

In an official determination signed by DOH Secretary Tracie Collins on Monday, the department officially revoked the license for medical cannabis producer New Mexicann based on findings from a hearing officer earlier this year. 

Collins’ final determination cited a number of violations as justification for revoking New Mexicann’s license to both grow medical cannabis and to manufacture derivatives and extracts. Those violations included failure to notify the state of what type of equipment was used for manufacturing, failing to use a “closed” extraction system and for “lifting an open extraction vessel containing an ethanol-based solution in the immediate vicinity of an active heater plate,” which ultimately caused the explosion, according to an investigation by the state.  

At least one method for extracting certain parts of cannabis plants includes using volatile solvents such as butane or ethanol. There have been numerous reports of injuries across the nation involving dangerous extraction methods, both in officially licensed facilities and home operations. New Mexicann also experienced an explosion resulting in injuries in 2015, but it is unclear what, if any, repercussions New Mexicann faced the first time. The Cannabis Regulation Act, which legalizes recreational-use cannabis and goes into effect on June 29, makes home manufacturing using volatile solvents illegal. 

New Mexicann’s license was one of 35 in the state and DOH has not opened the production or manufacturing licensing process for several years.