Jason Barker Guest Column: New Mexico’s Neglected Medical Cannabis Laws In 2019 Prevents Governor’s 2020 Legalization Plan

Jason Barker is an advocate for Safe Access New Mexico, an Affiliate of Americans For Safe Access. He is also a freelance writer for Cannabis News Journal and he is a medical cannabis patient in New Mexico. Mr. Baker’s work has focused solely on medical cannabis issues, decriminalization of cannabis, hemp policy and does not work on legalization of cannabis for non-medical purposes or other illicit drug issues. Mr. Barker is not paid or employed in the medical cannabis industry nor does he have any financial interest in the medical cannabis industry or in a future recreational cannabis industry. Mr. Baker lives in Albuquerque with his dog, Tecumseh, who has a very severe case of canine epilepsy.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this guest opinion column written by Jason Barker are those of Mr. Barker and do not necessarily reflect those of the www.petedinelli.com blog. Further, Mr. Baker has paid no consideration for its publication and has given his consent to publication. www.PeteDinelli.com has not been paid any compensation to publish the guest column.

Following is the guest column written by Mr. Baker was submitted to this blog for publication:

“This week, New Mexico’s citizen legislature returns to the Roundhouse in Santa Fe where all 112 legislators are gearing up for what is expected to be a fast and furious legislative session. The entire Legislature is also up for election later this year in November.

The Second Session of the 54th Legislature is only a 30 day session, limited to budgetary matters and those items placed on the governor’s agenda, or “call”, the Session will conclude on February 20th 2020 at noon. And for the second year in a row, the robust oil production in southeastern New Mexico is leaving the state flush with additional new budget money to the tune of $797 million.”

REVENUES FROM RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA NOT NEEDED

The last two weeks we have all seen the talk on the news and in the newspapers about the Governor’s agenda for the legislature with recreational cannabis legalization dominating those priorities in the news. Since legislators in the Roundhouse have $797 million coming in for the new budget year, there is absolutely no need to fast track recreational cannabis legalization for New Mexico in 2020 during a limited 30-day session.

Those are the two obvious reasons why legalization is not a legislative necessity in 2020 nor is New Mexico ready for legalization. The Governor has all that new money coming in and it is such a limited 30-day session. Also remember, last year the state had $1.2 billion come in from the oil boom and then in early December 2019, KOB 4 news reported that nearly $1 billion worth of capital outlay grant money was never allocated by lawmakers due to “lack of communication.”

DYSFUNCTIONAL “CITIZEN LEGISLATURE”

“With all that money coming in over those two years, the Governor has missed a huge opportunity and a chance to fix the biggest problem in the state: A dysfunctional “citizen legislature” that is more properly termed a “volunteer legislature” because our legislators are unpaid and they all must have outside jobs, businesses or other sources of income.

This current structure of our citizen legislature is holding New Mexico back, being the last state without a professional hybrid style legislature is holding New Mexico back from true success. It takes New Mexico’s legislature 2 ½ years to equal the same legislative work done in just one year in other state legislatures, like Colorado’s.

[It’s] … is also worth pointing out that none of the 11 current states with legal recreational cannabis did so with a legislature structured like New Mexico’s “volunteer legislature”. This makes the ethics of the legislative process much more important as our state tackles the legalization debate because our legislators are unpaid and they all must have outside jobs, businesses or other sources of income.”

MEDICAL CANNABIS IN SCHOOLS BILL

“The biggest problem with the Governor’s push for recreational cannabis legalization in 2020 is that doing so would defy Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s very own campaign promise made about legalization.

For starters, … Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham wants the medical marijuana program protected in any legislation legalizing a commercial marijuana industry.”

See: ‘Legal pot or not? A New Mexico debate’ | ABQ Journal 2019 |

https://www.abqjournal.com/1264970/legal-pot-or-not.html

Unfortunately, 2019 has been a very rough year for the state medical cannabis program participants. The state has three medical cannabis laws on the books, all three have multiple violations currently happening, and all of these violations are being ignored by the State of New Mexico. Even more disappointing was how we saw more medical cannabis program participants get arrested in 2019 for doing what the law allows, than the last four years of Governor Martinez’s administration combined.

The first one of these violations stems from last year’s legislative session when lawmakers passed SB-204, the Medical Cannabis in Schools bill and the Governor signed it into law. The policy guidance for the medical cannabis in schools law, by the Public Education Department, states that the Department of Health is not going to allow school personnel to administer medical cannabis to patients in the state’s medical cannabis program. This policy guidance from the PED is changing the law and the PED has ignored the work of the state’s legislature.

The PED did this by allowing APS, Rio Rancho, and schools across the state to continue to discipline students and their families by not allowing for the “reasonable accommodation” part of the new law, forcing parents or caregivers to come to the child’s school to give the medicine.

The “medical cannabis in school’s law” is written very clearly and the Public Education Department does not have the ability to change how the law was written or the intent of how the law was written. And that’s exactly what has happened.

The Governor and her office have completely ignored this matter, as the education clause of the New Mexico Constitution guarantees a “uniform system of free public schools sufficient for the education of, and open to, all the children of school age…” And they are ignoring this while the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit is active, that case addresses the Public Education Departments disparities across the State of New Mexico. And the PED’s failure to follow the “medical cannabis in schools law” just added to that disparities problem.

Amending and fixing the medical cannabis in school law should be a 2020 legislative priority before recreational cannabis legalization, according to that promise made by the Governor. I have even taken the liberty of writing an amended SB-204 mock bill, providing it to last year’s bill sponsors. Hopefully the Governor allows them to do their duty as elected officials.”

NM MEDICAL CANNABIS PROGRAM RESULTS IN INADEQUATE SUPPLY

“Today the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program has over 80,257 registered participants with almost 300 of those participants being pediatric medical cannabis patients.

The Dept. of Health has issued 35 licenses for the production of medical cannabis but currently there are only 34 active licenses and those 34 producers operate over 85 dispensaries across New Mexico. One producer had their license taken away by the Department of Health and nothing has been done to license a new program producer.

These 34 medical cannabis producers are now growing 39,400 cannabis plants in a 3-5-month cycle which only provides ½ of a medical cannabis plant worth of medicine per patient. And this is another violation of the law that is occurring, the state has a serious issue with adequate supply for the medical cannabis program. “Adequate Supply” is a program legal requirement in the original medical cannabis program law, Lynn And Erin Compassionate Use Act, and that legal requirement is not being followed.

The Governor also promised to increase the program’s adequate supply for the current producers and to license new ones and that did not happen in 2019.

New Mexico hasn’t ever done any research into medical cannabis production and dosage for the medical cannabis program for establishing a cannabis plant count to provide “Adequate Supply”, and there is even an excellent medical cannabis research program at UNM that could do this for the state.

It makes complete sense for the state of New Mexico to know how much cannabis they will need to grow for the medical cannabis program before trying to legalize recreational cannabis. Right now, the state has no idea.

Another violation of the law happened in December 2019 when the Department of Health, the Medical Cannabis Program Office and the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board was unable to fulfill their duties and responsibilities for the program law. The advisory board shall convene at least twice per year and they did not have legal quorum for the December 2nd meeting.

New Mexico needs to fix the medical cannabis program before passing a recreational cannabis law, period.”

GOVERNOR’S WORKING GROUP RECOMMENDATIONS ADOPTS NEW MODEL

“The Governor’s Legalization Work Group recommends adopting a totally new model for a joint medical-adult use program in New Mexico and that is very serious fatal flaw that will devastate New Mexico’s medical cannabis program. Using the state’s medical cannabis program for a recreational cannabis law is ethically wrong to be doing. And there is a very good reason why no other state has that model, as it will ruin any medical cannabis program in any state because it is a system of regulation being built on the backs of current medical cannabis laws.

Cannabis policy experts from Americans For Safe Access have noted that recreational cannabis use and medical cannabis use only have the criminal justice system in common. A joint medical-adult use program will result in the destruction of the medical cannabis program in our state because its regulations and supply chain are not designed for a joint program.

Representative Javier Martinez told NM Political Report that his intention is to “ensure social equity and that cannabis patients have enough affordable medicine.”
The timeline for Social Equity in the Cannabis Regulation Act does not happen until 2022, putting those candidates at a severe disadvantage trying to enter the new industry. Social Equity is only a carrot on a stick in this bill.

Nor does the Cannabis Regulation Act provide the medical cannabis program with “adequate supply” of medical cannabis products for patients, the bill actually allows the Recreational Consumer to have more possession rights and more buying power over the medical cannabis community.

It would be a dishonest statement for any elected official or anyone for that matter to claim this bill “protects the medical cannabis program” because of how the Cannabis Regulation Act changes “adequate supply” and that prevents patients from having the uninterrupted availability of cannabis for a period of three months and that is derived solely from an intrastate source.

Preventing that also defies the purpose of the state’s medical cannabis program law; The purpose of the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act is to allow the beneficial use of medical cannabis in a regulated system for alleviating symptoms caused by debilitating medical conditions and their medical treatments.

Since the medical cannabis program has over 80,257 registered participants, the 34 licensed producers are only growing those 39,400 cannabis plants which currently only provides ½ (half) of a medical cannabis plant worth of medicine per patient. The Cannabis Regulation Act wants allow anyone over 21 years old to access that already very limited supply.

That’s a recipe for disaster and lawmakers are blatantly ignoring that fact to push legalization in 2020.

Another way to look at this adequate supply issue would be in terms of chile, would the chile farmers in our state be able to meet demand for everyone if they were all only limited to growing 40,000 chile plants?”

AMEND CANNABIS REGULATION ACT

“The Cannabis Regulation Act needs to be amended with its own set of producers licensed separately for growing cannabis and its own separate plant count and its own separate dispensary system.

If lawmakers in New Mexico are going to take on the Failed War on Drugs in 2020, then please finish what you started with Medical Cannabis in 1978.

New Mexico’s medical cannabis history started in 1978. After public hearings the legislature enacted H.B. 329, the nation’s first law recognizing the medical value of cannabis. Later renamed The Lynn Pierson Marijuana & Research Act set forth a program that had over 250 New Mexicans receiving medical cannabis.

Also consider this: In other states with medical cannabis programs, after recreational cannabis legalization, ALL of those state medical cannabis programs have suffered … legalization has not benefited any states medical cannabis program to date. Even our neighbor to the north, in Colorado’s medical cannabis program has seen over a 19% decline in participation in recent years. And in Illinois in 2020, after only two weeks of recreational cannabis sales, medical cannabis patients started facing shortages for their medicine that could last more than six months.”

RECREATIONAL CANNABIS NEEDS A SPECIAL SESSION

“Lawmakers can defer recreational cannabis to a special session in the fall of 2020, if the proponents are right about the financial gains for the state then recreational cannabis sales will easily cover the state’s cost at doing the special session for legalization.

As a medical cannabis patient, and advocate, I do not support the recreational legalization bill state legislators and Drug Policy Alliance have planned for the 2020 legislative session, nor does Safe Access New Mexico, as it will cause great harm to the current medical cannabis program. And we will not support that type of policy until the discrimination against children and others in the Medical Cannabis Program has ended and legislation is passed into law Repairing and Expanding the current neglected medical cannabis program laws.

New Mexico needs to fix the medical cannabis program before passing a recreational cannabis law, period.”

RESPECTFULLY

Jason Barker

__________________________

POSTSCRIPT

BELOW ARE LINKS FOR RELATED NEWS ARTICLES:

‘Dad pleads for medical cannabis’ | Friday, November 22nd, 2019 | ABQ Journal

https://www.abqjournal.com/1394537/dad-pleads-for-medical-cannabis.html
“New Mexico as it stands just does not have the logistics for recreation, said Chad Lozano, secretary of the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Advocate Alliance.”
‘Medical cannabis experts caution against New Mexico’s push to legalize recreationally’ | ABC 7 KVIA |

https://kvia.com/news/2019/12/23/medical-cannabis-experts-caution-against-new-mexicos-push-to-legalize-recreationally/
‘Medical marijuana users struggle to keep up with costs’ | Nov. 2019 | ABQ Journal |

https://www.abqjournal.com/1386640/medical-marijuana-users-struggle-to-keep-up-with-costs.html

‘Mixed responses to suggestions from marijuana legalization work group’ | NM Political Report |

https://nmpoliticalreport.com/2019/10/17/mixed-responses-to-suggestions-from-legalization-work-group/

LINKS TO RELATED BLOG ARTICLES

Recreational Cannabis Bill Introduced; Endorsed By Governor MLG; Commentary By John Strong: Bill Does Not Address One Very Big Problem

NM Legislature Should Avoid Traditional Licensing Of Recreational Cannabis Based On Population; “Let Supply And Demand” Market Forces Decide

“Recreational Pot” Task Force Report Long On Recommendations, Short On Legislation; Legalizing Recreational Pot Far From Certain

Proposed Fix For Medical Cannabis Card Carriers Creates Problem For Speaker Of the House Brian Egolf; No Love Lost Between Journal and Speaker Mandating Extreme Caution

On August 29, 2019, Santa Fe District Judge Bryan Biedscheid ruled that New Mexico must allow non-residents to participate in its medical cannabis program. The court ruling centers on amendments made to the medical cannabis law by the 2019 New Mexico Legislature and which Governor Lujan Grisham signed into law. The changes took effect on July 1, 2019. The legislature changed the definition of “qualified patient” by removing a requirement that an enrolled member of the medical cannabis program must be a New Mexico resident. According to the court’s ruling the language of the amended medical cannabis statute is clear.

In his ruling, Judge Biedscheid said

“This statute, plainly and unambiguously, does away with the requirement of residence of the state of New Mexico. … it does not allow the Department of Health to withhold identification cards to qualifying patients who live outside of New Mexico. … Continuing to insist on a showing of residence for eligibility in the program, when that has been taken out by the Legislature, is not appropriate.”

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham strongly criticized the ruling saying the state would appeal the decision by issuing the following statement:

“We remain of the opinion that New Mexico’s medical cannabis program should not be bulldozed by an out-of-state litigant operating with his own financial interests at heart rather than those of the state’s medical program or of the many New Mexicans who depend upon it … [The ruling] contradicts both the intent of the legislative sponsor and the interpretation of the New Mexico Department of Health … and the state plans to appeal the decision.”

According to the New Mexico Department of health, there are 80,257 patients enrolled in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program as of last month with 421 out-of-state residents have enrolled. Most of the out of state residents are from Texas.

The Plaintiffs’ attorney suing the state on behalf Ultra Health LLC, a prominent licensed medical cannabis producer and its President Duke Rodriquez, is New Mexico Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, a prominent Santa Fe trial attorney. Speaker Egolf voted for the original amendments in the 2019 legislature and then challenged the legislation in court.

AMENDMENT TO LAW PROPOSED

The 2020 New Mexico legislature began on January 21, 2020, and with its start came the introduction of Senate Bill 139 sponsored by Democrat NM State Senator Gerald Ortis y Pino. The legislation is intended to correct the state law to prohibit out of state residents from obtaining medical cannabis cards and to require “in state residency”. According to Senator Ortiz y Pino:

“The whole intent from Day One was not to throw it open” .

Not surprising, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is backing the proposed “fix” to the state’s medical marijuana laws and has added it to the call agenda. Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said that if the bill wins approval, these out-of-state individuals who enrolled after the judge’s ruling will get to keep accessing medical marijuana in New Mexico until their one-year medical cannabis cards expire and they will not be allowed to renew the identification cards.

Last year’s bill permits reciprocity between New Mexico and other states with similar programs. If Senate Bill 139 passes, the reciprocity would not be affected. Further, the state is still appealing last year’s ruling by District Judge Bryan Biedscheid and the Court of Appeals has yet to take action on the appeal.

OPPOSTION TO CHANGE

Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of Ultra Health LLC, the cannabis producer that sued the state last year, said the Lujan Grisham administration’s stance on the issue makes no sense. Rodriquez argued many of the out-of-state residents who have enrolled in New Mexico’s medical pot program either work or live part time in the state. Rodriguez pointed out that the proposal to legalize recreational cannabis would not limit use to New Mexicans, but would allow anyone ages 21 or older to purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries.

“It makes no logical sense why they should … [punish out of state residents] We continue to be totally confused about justifying the logic for protecting the medical program.”

https://www.abqjournal.com/1412480/gov-backs-fix-for-medical-pot-law.html

SPEAKER EGOLF CHALLENGED FOR RE ELECTION

On December 10, 2019, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that a New Mexico climate activist with Navajo roots plans to challenge state House Speaker Brian Egolf for his seat in 2020. Lyla June Johnston, a Stanford-educated climate activist whose social media presence swelled during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, plans to take on incumbent Egolf, one of the most powerful Democrats in New Mexico politics. Johnston said that she intends to focus her campaign on environmental issues and criticized Egolf and other Democratic leadership for not doing enough to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the oil-rich Permian Basin and had this to say:

“Of course [Democratic leadership are] telling us that we need oil revenue to fund our children’s education, but fossil fuel extraction destroys the future of those very same children … We’re educating them for a future they’re not gonna see. And that’s how I know a lot of our leadership is insincere”

Johnston earned a degree in environmental anthropology from Stanford and is now pursuing her Ph.D. in sustainable food systems online from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She works as a community organizer in Santa Fe.

https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/legislature/climate-activist-challenges-new-mexico-house-speaker/article_f2894c08-1b96-11ea-a56f-5ffb4ac5c685.html

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

It is more likely than not that Senate Bill 139 will be passed by the New Mexico Senate and referred to the New Mexico House for passage. It is also highly likely that the legislation will pass, become law and sent on to the Governor for her signature. If the law does indeed become law, it will render the state’s appeal moot and the case would be dismissed. What is not at all certain is what will Speaker of the House Brian Egolf do with the legislation.

Last year’s Santa Fe District Court State ruling came as no surprise to anyone in the legal community given the language, or lack of clarifying language, in the medical cannabis statute. What did come as an absolute surprise and raised more than a few eyebrows in the legal community was when the Plaintiffs’ attorney suing the state was the New Mexico Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, who also voted for the amendments to the law last year.

Speaker Egolf representing the Plaintiff in the case against the State on a law he voted for raised more than a few questions of “conflict of interest” and the “appearance of impropriety”, at least in the court of public perception and public opinion. Speaker Egolf strenuously objected to the criticism, especially to that leveled against him by the Albuquerque Journal. Egolf proclaimed that there was no conflict and that he has a right to make a living as and attorney given New Mexico’s citizen legislature.

A remarkable exchange occurred between the Albuquerque Journal when it editorialized and Speaker Egolf responded to the Journal. It is obvious there is no love shared between the Albuquerque Journal and Speaker of the House Brian Egolf.

You can view both the Albuquerque Journal Editorial and the Speaker’s response at these links:

https://www.abqjournal.com/1372801/speakers-work-on-medical-marijuana-suit-raises-concerns.html

https://www.abqjournal.com/1374952/editorial-all-medical-pot-smoke-no-fire.htm

Speaker Egolf now has a major problem with the introduction of Senate Bill 139, a problem he created himself. Speaker Egolf will now be forced to decide does he vote to amend the statute to include Mew Mexico residency or does he take the position of his client and oppose it?

With the New Ethics Commission up and running, Egolf needs to be extremely cautious in the event Senate Bill 139 (SB 139) passes the Senate and is forwarded to the House. Egolf needs to secure an advisory opinion from the New Mexico Ethics Commission as to what he can or cannot do with respect to SB 139 in his capacity as Speaker of the House.

Until an advisory opinion is issued by the Ethics Commission, Speaker Egolf would be wise not to make House Committee referrals or even vote on SB 139. Another problem for the Speaker is that he now has opposition within the Democratic Party as he seeks another term. What he does with Senate Bill 139 will no doubt surface in the campaign that just may be too close for comfort and perhaps even end his political career as Speaker of the House.

Speaker Of The House Egolf Makes A Living Raising A Few Eyebrows; Gov. MLG Should Seek Amending Medical Cannabis Law

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s 2020 State of State Address Long On Priorities For A Short Session

On January 21, 2019, the 30-day New Mexico Legislature began, with New Mexico Governor Mitchell Lujan Grisham giving her second State of the State address to a joint session of the New Mexico House and Senate. Thirty-day sessions are limited to budgetary matters and issues approved for consideration and placed on what is referred to as the “Governor’s Call” or “Governor’s Message”.

In her opening remarks, the Governor proclaimed:

“The state of our state is dynamic, ready for more, on the cusp of steady and sustainable progress. … We are stronger today than we were one year ago, no question.”

The Governor touted economic statistics in support of her statement that the State is stronger today than one year ago. According to the Governor, New Mexico is number 8 nationally in job growth and had its best year for job growth since 2005, with 15,000 new jobs since the beginning of 2019.

THE GOVERNOR’S PRIORITIES

In addition to enactment of a $7.5 billion dollar balance budget, the Governor outlined the following priorities:

PERA PENSION SYSTEM

The Governor supports overhauling the state pension system for government workers known the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA). She proposed a $76 million infusion of cash to help the state’s chronically underfunded PERA and agrees with the major changes proposed by the legislature.

For the 2020 legislative session, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has endorsed a complex proposal to overhaul New Mexico’s chronically underfunded PERA proposed by Democratic legislative leaders. The proposal builds on the work of a PERA task force established by the governor with some major changes. The most controversial recommendations by her task force involved the 2% cost of living (COLA) currently guaranteed to all retirees. According to media reports, the legislation will establish a “profit-sharing” model for the annual cost-of-living adjustments that most retirees now receive. Rather than an automatic 2% increase in their pensions each year, the actual amount would fluctuate, anywhere from 0.5% to 3%, depending on investment returns.

Under the proposed legislation, government employers and employees will pay more into the system with a schedule that phases in higher contributions. Other changes will help retirees who are older than 75, disabled or receiving pensions of less than $25,000 a year, despite 25 years of service. With respect to annual cost-of-living adjustments, they would be increased by half a percentage point to 2.5% for retirees who are 75 or older. This was a change made after requested by Governor Lujan Grisham.

Under the proposed legislation, many retirees would receive a temporary reduction in their cost-of-living increases. For 3 years, retirees would get an extra check equal to 2% of their pension. Such a “one lump” sum payment in one check would eliminate the compounding effect of having each 2% build on the previous 2% increase.

PUBLIC EDUCATION

When it comes to education, for a second year, the Governor wants to increase teacher pay again, extend learning time for students and investing in a new early childhood trust fund to help pay for prekindergarten and other services.

The Governor’s proposed budget is close to $7.7 billion and includes a proposed 4% salary increase for New Mexico teachers and more money for school districts with a large number of “at risk” students. This includes the most significant back-to-back raises for educators in over a decade and increases in whole-child education, bilingual and multicultural frameworks, community schools, and STEAM education program. The proposed budget contains $200.3 million increase in the public-school budgets.

COLLEGE EDUCATION

The Governor proposed building a new scholarship program that provides tuition-free college to residents of New Mexico. The scholarship program has been looked upon with some skepticism by legislators.

The Governor wants to create a “New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship” that would benefit an estimated 55,000 college students and expand funding for child-care assistance and pre-Kindergarten programs statewide. The “Opportunity Scholarship” will cover the cost of tuition for students enrolled at New Mexico colleges and universities are expected to cost $25 million to $35 million. The scholarships offered will be aimed at covering the remaining gap for students after other awards and scholarships, including New Mexico’s lottery program scholarships or other sources.

RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA

The Governor proposed legalizing recreational marijuana to help diversify New Mexico’s economy, embracing recommendation made by her working group of legalization of recreational cannabis established last year. On September 10, 2019, the Governor’s task force endorsed and recommended a traditional licensing system for private companies that would grow and sell marijuana. The state would not operate retail stores. The licensing system is the same system as used for the State’s medical cannabis program. The proposal is a complete shift from the legislation that advanced through the state House last session where Democratic lawmakers embraced the idea of state-run cannabis stores as a part of a compromise with Republicans.

NEW MEXICO HEALTH CARE

The Governor wants to improving New Mexico’s health care system by capping copays in some cases and importing prescription medicine wholesale from Canada. The Wholesale Prescription Drug Importation Act (SB 1) has been added to the Governor’s call and would create an office of wholesale drug importation at the Department of Health where officials would create a plan to import certain prescription drugs from Canada. Only those drugs that will result in substantial saving be imported. The federal officials have to approve the plan first.

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico-news/gov-adds-bill-that-would-allow-prescription-drug-importation-to-her-call-list/5620123/?cat=500

PUBLIC SAFETY

With respect to the public safety, the Governor embraced toughing penalties for human-trafficking, drug-trafficking and gun-trafficking. She announced and expanding the State Police force by 60 officers. She also said she wants a new law to target “people who terrorize New Mexicans with threats of mass violence.”

HELPING HAND TO NEW MEXICO SENIORS

The Governor announced she wants to have funded a “Senior Dignity Fund” to help pay for transportation, food and other necessities for needy seniors and adults with disabilities. She is proposing funding of $25 million “

“RED FLAG” LAW CONSPICUOUSLY ABSENT

On January 8, in a press conference widely covered by the media, the Governor endorsed a “red flag” law. Under the proposed law a law enforcement officer or family member requesting an extreme-risk protection order would provide a sworn affidavit explaining in detail the facts and circumstance as to why the order is needed against a person. A judge could then issue a 15-day emergency order to seize the weapons and ammunition from that person and would schedule a hearing to determine if there was a need for a one-year order. When the court order expires, the guns and ammunition would then be returned to the individual.

During her 47-minute speech, the Governor made no mention of the “red flag” law signaling that it may no longer be on her call for the session.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The 2020 New Mexico Legislative is Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s second legislative session, but she has been through sessions before as a cabinet secretary, knows the drill and knows how to count votes. In her second State of the State address, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has indeed announced an ambitious agenda that is still very much evolving, subject to constant change and that no doubt will include much more.

One thing is for certain, the governor’s agenda can be considered ambitious for a 30-day session. No doubt it will be hectic for all legislators. Notwithstanding, the 2020 legislative session will be made much easier because of the oil boom that has propelled New Mexico’s government revenue to record highs. The record surplus should allow the Governor and legislature to fund all the education programs, invest in capital projects and infrastructure as well as shore up the PERA pension funds, but no doubt the legislature will use extreme caution in the funding programs/

FOR RELATED BLOG ARTICLES SEE

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham Announces Long Anticipated 2020 Legislative Agenda For Session That Begins January 21, 2020; Committee Work Has Already Begun

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham Proposes $7.68 Billion Dollar Budget; LFC Releases Own Budget; Children And Education Once Again Biggest Priorities

APD Has Lowest Murder Clearance Rate In 10 Years; 52% Clearance Rate On 82 Murders Occurring 2019; Murders And Violence Too Close To Home

In the United States, an estimated 16,214 people were murdered in 2018. This was a decrease from the 2017 murder estimates.

ALBUQUERQUE RANKS #40 FOR MURDERS IN TOP 65 MAJOR CITIES

On January 20, 2020 NBC News did a story on the murder rates of the 65 major cities having greater than 100,000 residents and listing them as the top deadliest cities in the United States. Albuquerque Ranked number 40 out of the 65 cities listed. According to the report, Albuquerque has 12.3 murders per 100,000 residents.

The top 10 deadliest cities for murder in 2018 are listed as follows:

1.St. Louis, Missouri: 60.9 murders per 100,000 residents
2.Baltimore Maryland: 51 murders per 100,000 residents
3.Detroit, Michigan: 38.9 murders per 100,000 residents
4.New Orleans, Louisiana: 37.1 murders per 100,000 residents
5.Baton Rouge, Louisiana: 35.1 murders per 100,000 residents
6.Memphis, Tennessee: 28.5 murders per 100,000 residents
7.Dayton, Ohio: 26.4 murders per 100,000 residents
8.Shreveport, Louisiana: 25 murders per 100,000 residents
9.West Palm Beach, Florida: 24.2 murders per 100,000 residents
10.Washington, DC: 22.8 murders per 100,000 residents

Other notable cities in the top 40 of the 65 cities include the following:

14. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 22.1 murders per 100,000 residents
15. Buffalo, New York: 22.1 murders per 100,000 residents
16. Chicago, Illinois: 20.7 murders per 100,000 residents
20. Cincinnati, Ohio: 18.9 murders per 100,000 residents
34. Rochester, NY: 14 murders per 100,000 residents
35. Orlando, Florida: 13.6 murders per 100,000 residents
37. Fort Wayne, Indiana: 14.9 murders per 100,000 residents
40. Albuquerque, New Mexico: 12.3 murders per 100,000 residents

You can review the entire list of 65 citys here:

https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/murder-map-deadliest-u-s-cities/2/

It is likely that Albuquerque has gone up in the ranking as a result of the historical number of murders that occurred in 2019.

Albuquerque’s FBI Uniform Crime statistics for the years 2008 to 2018 reveal just how bad violent crime has increased in Albuquerque over the last 10 years. Violent crimes include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults and have all increased. The hard numbers for the last 10 years reflect that crime has not declined much and that like a waive on a beach, it had “ebbed and flowed” over the years but have risen none the less to all-time highs.

APD CLEARANCE RATE LOWEST IN 10 YEARS

The number of murders reported each year from 2008 to 2019 are:

2008: 38
2009: 56
2010: 42
2011: 35
2012: 41
2013: 34
2014: 30
2015: 42
2016: 61
2017: 72
2018: 65
2019: 82

On December 31, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) officially recorded the 82 homicide for the city, an all-time record. It was on December 9, 2019, the city recorded its 74th homicide breaking the previous record of 72 murders set in 2017. Before 2017, the last time the City had the highest number of homicides in one year was in 1996 with 70 murders. In addition to the 82 homicides in 2019, APD Homicide detectives are also working on a back log of active cases from previous years.

The 2019 murder victims include a high school student at a high school party, a Navy veteran who was shot and killed outside a Central Grill by someone trying to steal his bike, a UNM college baseball player killed outside a popular restaurant and bar, and the mother of two New Mexico State Police officers who was shot and killed in her car parked in her driveway as she was getting ready to go to the gym.

On January 1, 2020, APD reported the first homicide of the year. So far, the city has had 4 homicides in 20 days that APD is investigating.

According to a January 20 Channel 7 news report, APD’s homicide unit has solved 43 out of the 82 of the murder cases or 52.4%, 39 cases remain unsolved or 47.6% with 37 arrests made in the murders committed in 2019.

https://www.koat.com/article/apd-investigating-dozens-of-unsolved-2019-homicides/30602071

The homicide clearance percentage has been in the 50%-60% range for the past two years. According to the proposed 2018-2019 APD City Budget, in 2016 the APD homicide clearance rate was 80%. In 2017 the clearance rate was 70% and the clearance rate for 2018 was 56%. The clearance rate for 2019 is now at 52.5%, the lowest clearance rate in the last decade.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1405615/apd-reports-record-82-homicides-for-2019.html

A STABBING TOO CLOSE TO HOME

During the beginning of my 42 years of practicing law, I began as a narcotics prosecutor with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. I was later employed as an Assistant District Attorney and assigned to the Violent Crimes Division of the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office working for then Republican District Attorney Steve Schiff who later became our Congressman. Years later, I became Chief Deputy District Attorney appointed by then Democrat District Attorney Jeff Romero with supervisor authority over the Violent Crimes Division. I have indicted and tried murder cases and know the importance of evidence gathering to prove a case and to get a conviction. My family has lived in City Council District 7, formerly District 5, since 1979, my wife and I raised a family and now we are fully retired. We have lived in the same home since 1989. Our area of the City now has some the highest crime rates for home break-ins and recently a murder occurred down the street in an apartment complex.

During his January 21, 2020 interview with Channel 7, Mayor Tim Keller had this to say:

“When it comes to homicide, I know there’s real frustration, and actually we feel it too, having my own family. … And I know what it feels like to not feel safe, even in the place where you worship or where our kids go to school.”

On Friday, October 31, 2019, my wife and I returned home around 8:30 pm at night and saw a number of APD vehicles down the street with their flashing lights on and with yellow “crime scene tape” used to cordon off the street and the area. The next day at approximately 11:00 am, I left my home and saw a “Univision” TV reporter, who I knew, at the scene taking footage. I stopped and asked him what was going on and he said the night before a stabbing occurred, the suspect was reported running north on the street towards my home, the victim was a neighbor and a retired police officer and was in critical condition. The neighbor apparently was trying to run off someone in the area, had gotten into an altercation and that person pulled a knife on him.

I got out of my car and as I was talking to the reporter, we both noticed blood on the sidewalk, a small pool of blood in the gutter and a number of very large blood spots in the street. As I began to look around, I discovered a red rag that obviously had a large amount of blood on it. For about 15 minutes I attempted to call 242-COPS, the APD Spokesperson and even Mayor Keller and got no answer. During this time, one of the business owners in the area showed up and said he had just talked to an APD Detective investigating the stabbing. I was given the Detectives number and I also tried to contact the Detective by phone and left a message.

By sure coincidence, two plain clothes APD Detectives showed up doing follow up investigation from the night before. They were shown the blood on the street and sidewalk as well as the rag with blood. I told one of the Detectives, that I felt the bloody rag should be collected, tagged into evidence and processed. The Detective responded immediately that it was not necessary to do that in that they knew whose blood it was. I tersely said, “no you do not know whose blood it is” and he quickly said I was right. I then requested that the rag be collected, tagged into evidence and processed. The Detective agreed and said he would call someone to do just that. I gave the Detective my business card but never heard from him with any kind of follow up. I did take photos on my cell phone of the blood in the street, sidewalk and the bloody rag.

There were three major concerns about the APD’s detective conduct:

1. Why was the bloody rag not collected and tagged into evidence the night before and why would any detective presume APD knew whose blood was on the rag? The blood on the rag could have belong to the suspect or for that matter another victim. The bloody rag needed to be tagged into evidence and processed to see if it is connected to the stabbing.

2. Were any samples of the fresh blood in the street or on the sidewalk taken for processing and identification?

3. Given the amount of blood in the streets and on the sidewalk, why was the Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Hazmat not called out to disinfect the area or at least to wash off the blood on the sidewalk and in the street? To my understanding this is APD standard operating procedure when dealing with blood in the public area and this has not changed. There are children in the area and if the blood was contaminated it would have been a health risk.

The Mayor and the Chief were emailed and notified of what happened, but they never responded personally. However,an APD’s spokesman responded to the email and said the bloody rag was indeed tagged into evidence and stated Albuquerque Fire and Rescue had been called out to wash off the blood the evening of the incident, but never showed up. No information was given as to why nor as to the condition of my neighbor

Violent crime prosecutors know the importance of APD being thorough in the collection of evidence, especially blood evidence, that can make or break a case. Relevance of such evidence needs to be decided by judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, not sworn police whose job is to collect evidence and not decide what is relevant.

What happened at the crime scene near my home has way too many similarities identical to the bloody underwear of a 9-year-old child found by one of the child’s teachers who tried to turn the evidence over to APD and the evidence was tossed by APD instead.

CHIEF GEIER SAYS “GENERALLY IT’S A SAFE CITY”

On January 16, KOB 4’s news anchor Steve Soliz sat down with Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier to see what APD is doing to tackle the city’s crime crisis. The interview is part of a series of stories by Channel 4 to cover the city’s crime problem and to ask our leaders what is being done. The link to the channel 4 interview is here:

https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/1-on-1-with-apd-chief-mike-geier/5612682/?cat=500

Instead of expressing any kind of outrage and showing no kind of real emotion or frustration and saying what he is doing, we have a police chief in a very quiet, meek voice and in a “matter of fact manner” say APD is doing all it can with the resources it has and saying some progress has been made with auto thefts.

The real jaw dropper was when Cheif Geier was asked what he would say to someone who has concerns for the city, who has lived here for some time and who feels the city is no longer the city they once knew. Geier said he would tell them “Generally, its a safe city” and went on to say all the crime is being done in certain “pockets” of the city that are targeted. He said APD is making an effort with the limited resources it has, but saying that is no excuse, but sounding like it was an excuse.

SIX VIOLENT CRIME INITIATIVES ANNOUNCED IN 10 MONTHS

On December 18, 2019 US Attorney General William Barr announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is initiating a major crackdown aimed at driving down violent crime in 7 of the nation’s most violent cities in the country. He named the initiative “Operation Relentless Pursuit”. Not at all surprising is that Albuquerque is one of those cities. The other 6 cities are Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, Memphis and Milwaukee. All 7 cities have violent crime rates significantly higher and above the national average.

The federal agencies that will participate and be involved are the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the U.S. Marshals Service. The DOJ will intensify federal law enforcement resources in the 7 cities by increasing the number of federal law enforcement officers in each of the cities and add additional officers to federal task forces. According to Barr, the DOJ is committing up to $71 million in federal grant funds that can help fund the task forces, be used to hire new police officers, pay overtime and purchase new equipment and technology.

According to Attorney General William Bar, Albuquerque has a violent crime rate that is 3.7 times the national average per capita , and the cities aggravated assaults are 4 times the national average per capita.

Mayor Keller and Chief Michael Geier have announced 5 separate programs within 10 months to combat our city’s violent crime and murder rates. Four programs announced last year are: the Shield Unit, Declaring Violent Crime “public health” issue, “Violence Intervention Plan” (VIP) and the Metro 15, yet Chief Geier says “Generally, it’s a safe city”. On January 20, 2020, Mayor Keller announced yet another anti-crime initiative called RAPID accountability program.

APD WORKING ON LONG TERM SOLUTIONS

Albuquerque Police Department (APD) are saying they are working on new strategies to ease the workload on APD sworn officers and homicide detectives. During an October, 2019 City Council meeting, APD Commander of Criminal Investigations Joe Burke had this to say:

“I would say in the long term if I was looking at a long-term solution—I believe we need two homicide units. I think the best practices around the nation normally have two homicide units. Detectives should be balancing between three to five investigations and we’re nearly double that. … We absolutely need detectives in criminal investigations. …
I was happy when I went over at the end of July and was briefed on the status of the unit that there’s a plan in place within the executive staff that when cadets are graduating from the academy that we’re going to get a certain percentage specifically for the criminal investigations bureau.”

https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/city-officials-look-for-solutions-to-ease-workload-on-apd-officers-homicide-detectives/5594211/?cat=500

STRUGGLING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE WITH LITTLE PROGRESS

Since Mayor Tim Keller took office on December 1, 2017, APD has added 116 sworn police officers to the force. Keller wants to spend $88 million dollars over a four-year period, with 32 million dollars of recurring expenditures, to hire 322 sworn officers and expand APD from 878 sworn police officers to 1,200 officers.

The massive investment is being done to full fill Mayor Tim Keller’s 2017 campaign promise to increase the size of APD and return to community-based policing as a means to reduce the city’s high crime rates. Last year’s 2018-2019 fiscal year budget provided for increasing APD funding from 1,000 sworn police to 1,040. This year’s 2019-2020 fiscal year budget has funding for 1,040 sworn police.

Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Michael Geier have increased the homicide unit from 5 to 11. This is the most detectives they’ve had in the unit in more than 20 years. There are now 10 detectives with one opening and one sergeant.

Burke acknowledged that the clearance rate is unacceptable and nowhere near where they want to be in solving all the murders by saying:

“It is a high number [of unsolved cases] and we recognize that. … We always want to be at 100% and anything less is unacceptable. … We need help from the community. We need witnesses. We need people who potentially have information for us so we can follow up and help solve some of these homicides and hold people accountable. … Just know that we have leads [on the two recent murders] and we’re following up on those leads. They’re good leads. We’re confident we’re going to be able to hold people accountable in those investigations.”

https://www.krqe.com/news/crime/albuquerque-police-51-of-2019-homicides-still-unsolved/?fbclid=IwAR1pL4J0EGCOLGGvOaLt9G7fTkgX4UDQKwEb07Dk2voyLQRUusjkoKt5ilU

APD command staff have said it would be ideal to have more homicide detectives to solve cases. APD is also trying to expand other units for gang operations and a gun violence reduction unit. A new cadet class is expected to graduate in spring 2020 with upwards of 50 new sworn police. Mayor Keller has said that APD is on track to have 100 new sworn in 2020.

HISTORY OF BOTCHED HOMICIDE INVESTIGATIONS

The APD Homicide Unit has a dubious history of botching any number of high-profile murder investigations. The APD Homicide Unit has compiled a history of not doing complete investigations, misleading the public, feeding confessions to people with low IQs, getting investigations completely wrong and even arresting innocent people.

The most egregious negligent murder investigation was the murder investigation of 10-year-old Victoria Martens. On August 24, 2016, she was murdered, dismembered and her body was burned in a bathtub. After a full year of 3 defendants being in custody, further investigation revealed that Jessica Kelley did not murder the child. Michelle Martens falsely admitted to committing the crimes. Forensic evidence revealed she and her boyfriend Fabian Gonzales were not even in the apartment at the time of the murder, they did not participate in the murder and that there was an unidentified 4th suspect in the case who committed the murder with supposedly DNA evidence found on the child’s dead body. The unidentified 4th suspect in the case is still at large.

The most recent botched homicide investigation was when on December 5, 17-year-old Albuquerque High School Student Gisell Estrada was arrested and charged with a murder she played no part in. She was never arrested before and had absolutely no criminal record of arrest and conviction of any crime, misdemeanor nor felony. She spent 6 full days in jail on a case of “mistaken identity.”

YOU CAN LEAD A HORSE TO WATER

Sources have confirmed that the firm “Law Enforcement Training and Consulting Services” were retained in the summer of 2019 year on a three-month, sole source contract for $75,000 to train the APD homicide unit on investigations, evidence gathering and follow-up. All APD sergeants, detectives and lieutenants, who investigate and supervise violent crime investigations, were given the training. A total of 126 APD personnel went through and completed the training and instructions provided by a former retired APD homicide detective now with “Law Enforcement Training and Consulting Services”. The former APD Detective has been involved with investigations of high profile murder cases in the country.

Law Enforcement Training and Consulting Services reviewed the arrest warrant regarding the 17-year-old high school girl Gisell Estrada arrested and jailed for a murder she did not commit because of a case of mistaken identity by the APD Homicide unit. Law Enforcement Training and Consulting Services concluded it went against everything APD officers had been trained on.

The firm stated they could provide no reason why the homicide division made such “colossal” mistakes contrary to all they had been trained and the arrest could have been prevented had the detective followed basic follow up practices to confirm identity. Instead, the detective ran with the information he had without even an attempt to verify, either out of being lazy or incompetence.
Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Michael Geier have yet to announce and personnel action against the investigating officer.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Mayor Keller, this city is long past feeling a sense of “frustration” as you put it, but is feeling downright anger because this is no longer a safe city, even though your police chief says “generally it’s a safe city”. You are probably a lot safer than the citizens you represent given the APD police detail that follows you everywhere you go. As Mayor, I suggest you get angry with your appointed command staff in that they are not getting the job done. The city is not even the city it was 10 years ago with our skyrocketing and out of control crime rates, something you pledged to bring down during your 18-month campaign for Mayor.

Mayor Tim Keller for the last two years has been given essentially everything he has asked for from city council for public safety – and then some. What is very troubling is that all the increases in APD budget, personnel and new programs are having no effect on bringing down the violent crime and murder rates. It is no longer an issue of not having the money, personnel or resources, but of a failed personnel resource management issue.

With a 52.4% clearance rate and a backlog of cases, the Keller Administration needs to increase the Homicide Unit significantly more than by 5 to 11, especially when the commander in charge of the unit is saying two separate units are needed. The longer a homicide case takes to complete an investigation or is neglected because of lack of personnel, the less likely the cases will be solved and prosecuted. Adding to the crisis is the emotional toll an unsolved murder takes on the families of the victims.

Given the sure number of homicides and the pathetic homicide clearance rate, the Homicide Investigation Unit needs to be increased by at least another 5 detectives for a total of 16 detectives, with two separate units of 8, one for the most current homicides and the second for older back logged cases. Further, given the units low clearance rate and past performance, more needs to be done with respect to recruiting and doubling down on training.

APD is in a crisis mode and it needs to concentrate on recruiting seasoned homicide detectives from other departments if necessary. The New Mexico State Police and the Bernalillo County Sherriff’s office needs to be solicited for help to assign some it personnel to APD for homicide investigation.

Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Michael Geier need to recognize the fiasco the APD homicide unit has become. APD saying it is “still working on a long-term solution” is no longer acceptable.

______________________________________

POSCRIPT:

When it comes to murders, the State of New Mexico is not doing much better than the City.

NEW MEXICO RANKS #7 NATIONALLY FOR MURDER

A July 16, 2019, USA Today report found that in 2018, the State of New Mexico ranked #7 of the states for murder with 7.1 murders per 100,000 residents. The state had the second highest violent crime rate at 783.5 per 100,000 residents. The states incarceration rate was 344 per 100,000 residents, the 22nd lowest and in 2018 an unemployment rate of 4.9%, the 3rd highest in the country

According to the USA Report:

“Along with Alaska, New Mexico is the only other state where violent crimes are over twice as common as they are nationwide. There were 783.5 reported incidents of violent crime for every 100,000 people in the state in 2017 compared to 382.9 per 100,000 nationwide. Other types of crime classified as property crimes are also common in the state. For example, New Mexico tops the list of states with the most break ins. Crime is often more common in areas with limited economic opportunity. In New Mexico, 4.9% of the labor force was out of work in 2018, the third highest unemployment rate among states, trailing only Alaska and West Virginia.”

You can read the full report on all states here:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/07/16/americas-most-violent-and-peaceful-states/39672421/

For related blog articles see:

“Generally, It’s A Safe City” According To APD Chief Michael Geier; Commentary: Like Hell It Is!

All Time Low APD Clearance Rate; Charging And Jailing An Innocent Child For Murder; Can Lead Homicide Unit To Water But Refused To Be Trained

Recreational Cannabis Bill Introduced; Endorsed By Governor MLG; Commentary By John Strong: Bill Does Not Address One Very Big Problem

On January 21, 2020, the 30-day New Mexico legislative session begins. The 30-day session is referred to as the “short session” which are held in even number years while 60-day sessions occur in odd number years. Thirty-day sessions are limited to budgetary matters and issues approved for consideration and placed on what is referred to as the “Governor’s Call” or “Governor’s Message”.

On September 10, 2019, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s “Cannabis Legalization Working Group” recommended a traditional licensing system for private companies that would grow and sell marijuana. The state would not operate retail stores. The licensing system is the same system as used for the State’s medical cannabis program. The Task Force proposal is a complete shift from the legislation that advanced through the state House in the 2019 legislative session where lawmakers embraced the idea of state-run cannabis stores as a part of a compromise with Republicans.

EDITOR’S NOTE: On January 16, 2020, house bill 160 was pre-filed for the upcoming legislative session. This blog article is a review of major highlights of the proposed legislation often asked about. It is not to intended to be a complete explanation of the legislation. You can read the 173 page bill at this link:

https://www.nmlegis.gov/Sessions/20%20Regular/bills/house/HB0160.pdf

PROVISIONS LEGALIZING RECREATIONAL CANNABIS

There are two separate bills that have been pre-filed, House Bill 160 and Senate Bill 115 . House Bill 160 is sponsored by State Representative Javier Martinez who served on the Governor’s working group. Senate Bill 115 is sponsored by State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino. According to both State Representative Javier Martinez and State Senator Jerry Oriz y Pino, both bills essentially have the same provisions. A final consolidated bill should emerge if enacted by both chambers.

Last year, it was the House that started the process with legalization of recreational cannabis. The approach this year is to have the Senate start the process in that it is the more conservative Senate that rejected last years efforts by the house. Getting it passed the Senate is the more difficult task.

The legislation is based on a report by the Governor’s Cannabis Legalization Working Group appointed to study the issue last year. The group had public meetings throughout the state and took testimony from interested parties. The group received over 200 pages of public comment from residents across the state prior to issuing is recommendations to address public health, public safety, testing, regulation and taxation of recreational cannabis.

House bill 16O is partially entitled “The Cannabis Regulation And Tax Act”. The title of the bill provides a nutshell of what the legislation does as follows:

The legislation creates a “Cannabis Control Division” within the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department and outlines duties and responsibilities of the new division (HB 160, page 11)

The bill creates a “Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee” (HB 160, page 15)

The Department of Health duties and responsibilities are enumerated (HB 160, page 19)

A “Public Health and Safety Advisory” committee is created (HB 160, page 20)

The bill establishes the medical cannabis subsidy program

Law enforcement reporting requirements for Department of Public Safety are revised (HB 160, page 22)

A “cannabis regulation fund” is established (HB 160, page 70)

A “community grants reinvestment fund” are created ( HB 160, page 70)

A “low-income medical patient subsidy” fund is established (HB 160, page 73)

It creates a cannabis “workforce training fund” (HB 160, page 73)

A cannabis industry equitable opportunity investment fund is created (HB 160, page 76)

A Cannabis Tax Act is contained in the legislation to allow state, city and counties to impose excise taxes (HB 160, pages 80 to 83) and provides for distributions from cannabis excise tax revenue

The legislation creates a roadside drug testing pilot project

The legislation creates a public education campaign

OVERVIEW OF LEGISLATION

The legislation will regulate both commercial and medical marijuana programs. The Cannabis Control Division of the Regulation and Licensing Division will have very broad and extensive authority to regulate the industry. The division will have powers to promulgate rules and regulations, including many mandates and limitations on license issuance and quality control. The Cannabis Control Division must be up and running by January 1, 2021, which is a very ambitious deadline given the magnitude of creating the industry.

The proposed legislation for the 2020 session does not include a provision calling for state-run cannabis stores. State run cannabis stores were proposed in the 2019 legislation that passed the House.

The proposed legislation will legalize use and sale of recreational marijuana for anyone age 21 and older. The 2019 New Mexico Legislature decriminalized possession which is now a $50 civil fine with no jail time. The proposed legislation provides for taxes on recreational pot at roughly 17% to 19% but makes medical marijuana tax-free and entirely subsides medical marijuana for low income patients.

The plan calls for food-grade testing of marijuana products. The legislation if passed will require all cannabis products sold in New Mexico to be tested and free from contaminants. Packaging must be clearly labeled with the THC dosage. The legislation also includes restrictions on advertisements that target youth. The legislation requires investments in training that would assist law enforcement officers in identifying impaired driving and not just limited to only cannabis-induced impairment.

The legislation does give local governments some authority to determine where cannabis dispensaries can be located. However, the state’s counties will not be given any authority to be able to prohibit cannabis sales nor prohibit the licensing of stores. In other words, local zoning rules will be able to be used to control the number of stores in an area where they the stores can located. This is identical to zoning restrictions placed on retail stores that sell pornography.

The legalization bill calls for generally a 19% tax rate. Each county and city have varying gross receipts tax rates and the cannabis tax would be added to those sales taxes. The tax is much lower than in other states and it is hoped it will prevent buyers from turning to the black market. The legislation will exempt residents in the medical cannabis program from the tax and would require cannabis growers to serve the medical market before the recreational market.

https://www.krqe.com/news/politics-government/gov-lujan-grisham-unveils-recreational-marijuana-legalization-proposal/

According to supporters, the tax will allow revenue to be generated for law enforcement efforts. Revenue generated by legalizing marijuana and taxation on ales will go toward law enforcement training and equipment, substance abuse treatment programs and the creation of a fund to help pay for medical cannabis costs for low-income patients. A proposed fund to help marijuana entrepreneurs is also proposed to help get the industry started.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have enacted recreational use of marijuana for adults. Vermont and Illinois have approved cannabis legalization laws through the legislative process while the other 9 states have done so through ballot measures.

Cannabis is still classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic. Production, sale and distribution of cannabis is a violation of federal law but the US Department of Justice and Federal law enforcement authorities decline to take action against states that have legalized it. The proposed legislation includes provisions that provides for dismissal of cases involving individuals who were incarcerated for cannabis-related crimes.

NO VESTED PROPERTY RIGHTS GIVEN

The legislation avoids a traditional licensing system as is created for full-service alcohol licenses. With present alcohol full-service licenses, the number of liquor licenses are capped and based on population numbers and liquor licenses are the property of the licensees and not the state. Purchasers of full-service liquor licenses have “vested property rights”. Liquor licenses are now being sold for upwards of $1.5 million where only the wealthy or major restaurant chains can only afford them. The result and unintended consequence of a population cap is that licenses are purchased for a few thousand dollars from the state and held onto for an investment profit or windfall profit.

In other states where recreational cannabis has been legalized, major corporations and wealthy investors have been able to purchase licenses, monopolize the industry and have squeezed out small business’s owners and local investors. Under the proposed legislation, the goal is to keep the license cost to around $500 a month, or $6,000 a year, so small businesses and local entrepreneurs can afford the licenses.

As written, the recreational cannabis legislation contains no limit on the number of recreational cannabis licenses. Under the proposed legislation, the holder of a recreational cannabis license issued will have no vested property right in the license and the license is deemed property of the state. A license issued pursuant to the Cannabis Regulation Act will not be transferable from person to person, corporation to corporation or corporation to person. The licenses shall not be leased and shall not be considered property subject to execution, attachment, a security transaction, liens, receivership or all other incidents of tangible personal property under the laws of this state. (Page 28 of HB 160)

PROTECTIONS FOR STATE MEDICAL MARIJUANA PROGRAM

There are upwards of 80,000 people enrolled statewide in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program which became law in 2007. It is projected that there will be over 100,000 patients by 2021. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has made it clear that New Mexico’s “Medical Cannabis Program” must be protected and not be place into jeopardy by legalization of recreational cannabis.

The proposed legislation contains a provision “requiring that each cannabis retailer maintain at all times a supply of medical cannabis products suitable and sufficient to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of qualified patients as determined by the department of health.” In the event of a shortage of cannabis products, qualified patients shall be served before any other consumer and the proposed law further provides that unused plants or products reserved for medical cannabis use may be offered to other consumers upon receiving division approval that all reasonably foreseeable medical cannabis needs have been met. (Page 13 of HB 160).

MEDICAL CANNABIS RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS

The 2019 New Mexico Legislature enacted amendments to the medical cannabis law and Governor Lujan Grisham signed them into law. The legislature changed the definition of “qualified patient” by removing a requirement that an enrolled member of the medical cannabis program must be a New Mexico resident. The changes took effect on July 1, 2019.

After the amendments to the law took effect, a Santa Fed State District Court ruled that New Mexico must allow non-residents to participate in its medical cannabis program. Ultra-Health LLC, an Arizona licensed medical marijuana producer whose President and CEO Duke Rodriguez, a former NM Department of Health Secretary, file suite to challenge the New Mexico residency requirement and succeeded. Initially the Governor said her administration would appeal the decision.

Placed on the Governor’s legislative agenda is a bill that is intended to address a State District Court ruling that New Mexico must allow non-residents to participate in its medical cannabis program and to have a New Mexico residency requirement for a medical cannabis card.

PERSONAL PRODUCTION OF CANNABIS PROHIBITED

Under the proposed legislation, it is unlawful for a person intentionally to produce cannabis except as provided in the Compassionate Use Act and the Cannabis Regulation Act and provides for limitations. (Page 61 of HB 160).

RESTRICTIONS ON MUNICIPAL AND COUNTY AUTHORITY

The proposed legislation places limitations given to local government entities, municipalities and counties. (Page 44 of House Bill 160)

Under the legislation, a local jurisdiction may in part adopt reasonable time, place and manner rules that do not conflict with the Cannabis Regulation Act or the states Clean Indoor Air Act including rules that reasonably limit density of licenses and operating times consistent with neighborhood uses.

Also, local jurisdictions may allow for the smoking, vaporizing and ingesting of cannabis products within an indoor or outdoor cannabis consumption area on the licensed premises of a cannabis retailer or integrated cannabis micro-business. Allowing time, place and manner rules are similar to alcohol licensing requirements.

Two very notable restriction place on local jurisdiction are that “local jurisdictions shall not:

(1) prevent transportation of cannabis products on public roads by a licensee that transports cannabis products in compliance with the Cannabis Regulation Act; or
(2) completely prohibit the operation of any category of license.”

ADVERTISING AND MARKETING RESTRICTIONS

The legislation provides that the Department of Environment and Occupational Health and Safety shall promulgate extensive rules and regulations relating to advertising and that prohibit the advertisement and marketing of cannabis products on a billboard, radio, television or other broadcast media, with exceptions. Advertising to those under the age of 21 are strictly prohibited. Using cartoon characters and minors in advertising are banned. The legislation establishes youth prevention and education programs. (Page 55, 56 of Bill 160).

CONFLICTING POLL NUMBERS

There have been two polls conducted on the legalization of recreational marijuana with two totally opposite results.

A poll was conducted from November 26 to December 2, 2019 by Change Research. The poll was commissioned by the Governor’s Legalization Working Group and sampled 1,005 likely voters statewide. The poll found that 73% of likely New Mexico voters support legalizing cannabis in the 2020 legislative session.

https://marijuanaworkgroup.com/poll-75-of-new-mexicans-support-plan-to-legalize-cannabis-in-new-mexico/

Another poll of 930 registered voters was released by Emerson College on January 7, 2020 that found that 63% of New Mexico voters are opposed to full legalization and 42% supported keeping just medical marijuana. You can review the tab results spread sheet here:

https://learnaboutsam.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Screen-Shot-2020-01-07-at-2.44.12-PM.png

GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM ANNOUNCES SUPPORT OF LEGALIZATION

On Friday, January 17, 2020 Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced her unequivocal support for legalization of recreational marijuana emphasizing 4 major points:

1. Legalization will spur economic development and
2. Create thousands of jobs
3. Open new career options for younger New Mexicans, and
4. Act as a catalyst for new research into cannabis’ medicinal properties.

In a press release announcing her support, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham had this to say:

“The Legislature has the opportunity to pass the largest job-creation program in New Mexico in a decade … Skeptics have been right to preach study and patience. I agree with their caution and that’s why we haven’t’ been rushed into this issue. But if we are clear-eyed about the risks, we have to be clear-eyed about the opportunity. … It is an incredibly important opportunity. … We are serious about getting it passed. It’s time to stop pretending cannabis is not already a part of our economy and culture. … The thousands of New Mexicans who work in, supply and serve our medical cannabis program are employers, they are doctors, they are entrepreneurs and they are neighbors.”

For economic benefits of legalization see:

https://www.petedinelli.com/2019/08/20/legalizing-recreational-pot-will-be-economic-boost-to-new-mexico/

According to the Governor’s office legalization of cannabis would generate upwards of 11,000 new jobs in agriculture, manufacturing, regulation, and retail industries. According to an independent economic analysis upwards of $620 million in sales will be achieved in the 5th full year of legalization. The Governor’s Office noted that medical cannabis producers last year sold almost 3 times more medical cannabis than chile.

Nine other states have already legalized recreational cannabis.

A HARD SELL

In interviews, the Governor has acknowledged that winning approval of the marijuana legalization plan will be difficult. She believes the Senate will be the biggest hurdle and she had this to say:

“I think cannabis [recreational legalization] is going to be really hard [and] it should be. That is not something to run into without being really clear. … If I have it on the call, I’m serious about getting it passed”

https://www.abqjournal.com/1402676/governor-finishing-legislative-agenda.html

https://www.koat.com/article/will-recreational-pot-be-legal-in-new-mexico-in-2020/30301730

The fact that the State has some of the highest DWI rates and opioid addiction rates in the country clearly complicates the legalization of recreational cannabis and the statistics will no doubt be used again by opponents of the legislation. The New Mexico Special Agent In Charge of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has already come out in opposition to the legislation.

Kyle Williamson, a special agent in charge of the El Paso division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which also covers all of New Mexico, said marijuana is an illegal drug for a reason, calling it addictive, prone to abuse and almost impossible to use responsibly and saying:

“From a federal law enforcement standpoint, it is a dangerous drug. … Some people say marijuana isn’t addictive, it doesn’t lead to the use of harder drugs and legalization will not lead to more use … juvenile, adolescent use, adult use in Colorado has all increased.”

https://www.lcsun-news.com/story/news/2020/01/17/new-mexico-mulling-marijuana-legalization-what-know-proposal/4455250002/

JOHN STRONG COMMENTARY: CANNABIS BILL DOES NOT ADDRESS ONE VERY BIG PROBLEM

John B. Strong is a private business owner in New Mexico and an investor. John Strong has been investing in startups since 2004. He is a co-founder or board member at several different companies, mostly in technology, healthcare, and financial services. Mr. Strong describes himself as being “obsessed with entrepreneurship and small businesses.

Mr. Strong offered the following observation on recreational cannabis legalization:

“Cannabis legalization is certainly coming at some point to New Mexico. Voters are in favor of it, and the State wants the tax revenue it can generate. There is however, one glaring problem that other states are confronting that should be addressed in any bill.

The hard fact is that along with legalization, there is a greatly reduced fear of violating the law by purchasing illegally cultivated and sold cannabis. In California in particular, they estimate that even 3 years after legalization, 70% of all cannabis products are illegally cultivated and sold outside the Tax and dispensary system. This obviously undermines one of the prime reasons for a state to legalize cannabis for the general public.

Making matters worse, when laws governing possession are eliminated, there is little fear of purchasing illegally grown cannabis, which is generally much cheaper than what comes out of the dispensary system. It’s all about dollars to the consumer, who would rather pay 25%-35% less by purchasing untaxed or controlled products from back yard farmers. And make no mistake, it is readily available to almost anyone anywhere.

Not only does this undermine the dispensary system, as they are competing with untaxed and lower priced, unregulated products, but it severely restricts the tax collections for the state as well. There is however, an easily implemented deterrent that can help ensure compliance: It should be mandated that all cannabis products be kept in their original packaging whether on your person, in your vehicle, or in your home.

All of these products are already packaged in some form anyway, and it is easy to add the tax stamp in the package (similar to those on the bottom of any pack of cigarettes).

If a consumer is found to possess cannabis in a plastic bag, or Tupperware container, chances are high that it was illegally cultivated and sold already. If those products were subject to seizure and a fine for possessing them, it would put a real deterrent to illegal sales. It’s really a matter of making it just not worth it to the consumer to possess or purchase them outside of the tax and dispensary system.

This won’t ensure full compliance, but any serious dent in the problem would be meaningful to both the state and the dispensary operators, and it is not a difficult fix. The bottom line here: If we are serious about legalization, we might as well benefit as much as possible.”

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The problem that must be confronted is that it is likely thousands more will seek “medical cannabis” cards as a means of side stepping the prohibition of recreational cannabis use. Getting a doctor’s prescription for marijuana will probably be as easy it is to get opiods. Alcohol Prohibition was a failure, as is outlawing recreational cannabis use. The widespread use of marijuana and the “underground” black market economy must be recognized for what it is and it will never go away as long as people want and desire a product.

The arguments made by Special Agent In Charge of DEA that marijuana is a dangerous drug leading to increase drug use are arguments that have been made repeatedly over the last 60 years by those in law enforcement who have been involved with the “war on drugs” first declared by President Richard Nixon and later carried on by First Lady Nancy Regan with her “Just Say No” to drugs campaign, which was laughable at best.

This country’s and New Mexico’s “war on drugs” when it comes to marijuana use has been a miserable failure with billions spent and wasted, money that would have been better spent on education, roads and even drug treatment and counseling. Many of the arguments that marijuana is a “gateway drug” to far more addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine have been repeatedly debunked, but that is an argument better left for a later date.

For related articles see:

https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DebunkingGatewayMyth_NY_0.pdf

https://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/is-marijuana-really-a-gateway-drug/

Even though Democrats hold comfortable majorities in both the New Mexico State Senate and the House of Representative the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in the 2020 session is far from certain, even with the Governors unequivocal support. There are still many members of the Senate and House, both Democrat and Republican, that have staunchly opposed all previous efforts to legalize recreational cannabis.

Although Governor Lujan Grisham supports the general concept of legalization of recreational marijuana, she has stressed repeatedly that any new law allowing recreational marijuana must not interfere with the state’s medical cannabis program, it must address driving while under the influence and it must protect workplace safety. It appears that the proposed legislation addresses those issues.

When it comes to the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana, both the house and the senate bills avoid a traditional licensing system like it created for full-service alcohol licenses. As written, the recreational cannabis legislation contains no limit on the number of recreational licenses, gives no vested property rights to license holders and makes it clear that the licenses are property of the state.

The two conflicting polls in essence cancel each other out. In politics, polls are often inaccurate as learned in the 2016 national election. A poll commissioned by a party that has a stake in an outcome are always subject to skepticism. The only polls that really matter are the ones where people actually vote and not just asked their opinions. One option that should be considered is placing the legalization issue on the ballot for voters to decide, which has been done in other states like Arizona and Colorado.

However, if a strong consensus can be achieved and if a recreational legalization program can be supported by large majorities in both the House and Senate, they should proceed and vote to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Without a strong consensus, the enactment of the bill without a public vote will no doubt be and ongoing controversy.

Legalize, regulate, tax recreational marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes.

For related blog articles see:

NM Legislature Should Avoid Traditional Licensing Of Recreational Cannabis Based On Population; “Let Supply And Demand” Market Forces Decide

“Recreational Pot” Task Force Report Long On Recommendations, Short On Legislation; Legalizing Recreational Pot Far From Certain

Legalizing Recreational Pot Will Be Economic Boost To New Mexico; Legalize, Regulate, Tax Like Alcohol And Cigarettes.

Happiness On Steroids

https://www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/mayor-tim-keller-tackles-citys-most-controversial-topics-during-one-on-one-interview/

This Channel 13 news report is what you got to call “happiness on steroids” to deal with some very serious problems and issues the city is facing . KRQE did not even bother to ask Keller if he agreed with APD Chief Geier’s assessment that “Generally, it’s a safe city” and when Geier said all the crime is being done in certain “pockets” of the city, a bogus claim Geier made a few days before on Channel 4.

What were interesting are the Mayor’s comments about the finding a location for the Homeless Shelter and the ART Bus project.

He said he would have no problem putting the homeless shelter close to his own neighborhood, which is the Albuquerque Country Club Area, because the homeless 24 hour, 7 day a week shelter is his idea.

Mayor Keller also said the logical next move for the ART Bus project is to expand it to Coors and the Sunport much later down the road but for now he’s keeping his focus along Central. Given all the accidents involving the buses and the negligent design of ART, the logical step is to abandon the project and it sure is not logical to expand it.

For a related blog article see:

https://www.petedinelli.com/2020/01/17/generally-its-a-safe-city-according-to-apd-chief-michael-geier-commentary-like-hell-it-is/