While over two-thirds of New Mexicans age 16 or older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot, the number who are fully vaccinated remains below the state’s 60 percent goal. As of Wednesday’s update, Department of Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said 67.6 percent of all New Mexicans age 16 or older had received at least one shot, while 58.7 percent are fully vaccinated, with either both Pfizer or Moderna shots or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “We need 21,307 boosters or [Johnson & Johnson] shots to go before we hit 60 percent,” Collins said. There are currently 85,000 people who are eligible for the second shot, while anyone who hasn’t received a vaccination shot yet is eligible for the Johnson & Johnson shot. The state also has been contacting those who received COVID-19 vaccination shots in other states to confirm that they are fully vaccinated.
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.
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.
Major hospital systems in New Mexico say that they are prepared to administer many more COVID-19 shots as they become available. But the nature of the supply chain is not only out of their hands, it’s out of the hands of the state, which relies on distribution from the federal government. Department of Health Secretary-designate Dr. Tracie Collins said that, as of Sunday, the state had received 221,375 COVID-19 vaccine doses from the federal government and administered 203,830, or over 90 percent. “New Mexico [has] the third-highest vaccine administration rate among all states in the country,” Collins said. “So we have a lot to be proud of.”
The limiting factor for New Mexico Collins said, echoing what health officials had said earlier, was available supply.
The governor and New Mexico health officials are optimistic that they have enough capacity to administer vaccines—with a bottleneck at the number of vaccines the state receives from the federal government. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham acknowledged that the state has also seen its fair share of hiccups, including an overwhelmed call center devoted to vaccinations because of unexpected demand from the public.
“We should stop underestimating that and we can do better, straight up. We can just do better,” she said. But she also placed blame on a much-criticized federal distribution of the vaccines to states. “The planning by the federal government was very poor,” the governor said.
As New Mexico looks to move to phase 1B of its COVID-19 vaccination plan, nearly 400,000 New Mexicans have signed up to get their name on the list, Health Secretary-designate Dr. Tracie Collins said in a press conference Monday. As of Monday, and citing information from 81 percent of providers, Collins said the state had received more than 170,000 doses from the federal government—despite a rocky process on the federal level—and administered 78,143 of those doses, including more than 30,000 in the last week. Those who qualify for a vaccination “will receive a notification when a vaccine is available at a nearby location” and be able to set up an appointment, Collins said. She also said that the state was working to hire more employees for the state’s vaccine call center to avoid long wait times or, which happened at times last week, the inability for some to even connect to the call center. She said the state’s goal was to have more capacity than the needs for calls.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office announced the appointment of a new Department of Health secretary on Wednesday.
In a statement, Lujan Grisham said she was “thrilled to welcome” Dr. Tracie Collins as the New Mexico Department of Health secretary-designate.
“New Mexico has never needed experienced and compassionate public health leadership more than right now,” Lujan Grisham said. “Dr. Collins will hit the ground running as part of our state’s COVID-19 response effort with the Department of Health and indeed all of state government.”
Collins is currently the dean of Population Health at the University of New Mexico and according to the governor’s office announcement has served in a variety of public health in the world of academia.
Collins, in a statement through the governor’s office, said she is ready to start working with staff at the DOH to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a very challenging time for all of us,” Collins said. “There is much work to be done to ensure the health and safety of New Mexicans. But I know the dedicated professionals of the Department of Health, and the many health care leaders throughout our state, are going to continue working tirelessly to address the needs of our diverse communities, both in this current crisis and beyond.”
Collins’ appointment comes months after former health secretary Kathyleen Kunkel announced her retirement. The department’s legal counsel Billy Jimenez served as acting secretary after Kunkel left.