Monday, May 29, 2023

Weed in the Roundhouse

Legislation Rollout Continues


Once our lawmakers began spitting out cannabis legislation, they just couldn’t stop. The debate over which legalization route the state should take has yet to light up, but we still have a month to see the fireworks. Be patient.

Last week Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) introduced SB 340—Medical Marijuana Changes. It notably alters language that started a legal battle over the state’s requirement for reciprocity patients to own a card that showed proof of authorization in a medical cannabis program issued by the same jurisdiction in which the patient’s ID card was issued.

The new bill would change the meaning of “reciprocal patient” to an individual who “is not a resident of New Mexico” who hold proof of “enrollment by a governmental regulatory authority to participate in” the medical cannabis program of another state, Washington D.C., a territory or commonwealth in the U.S. “in which the individual resides; or an individual who holds proof of enrollment by a governmental regulatory authority of a New Mexico Indian nation, tribe or Pueblo to participate in its medical cannabis program.”

If passed, this bill would clear up much confusion surrounding the state’s reciprocity rules.

Rep. Derrick J. Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) introduced HB 88—Finished Hemp Product Sales, which would authorize the Environmental Improvement Board to regulate the distribution and sale of finished hemp products. If passed, the board would be in charge of regulating standards for product safety, product description, THC concentration, storage requirements and record keeping. Under the bill the Environment Department would manage retail permits.

Yet another legalization bill with the same name as the others was introduced last week as well. Jacob Candelaria’s (D-Albuquerque) SB 363—Cannabis Regulation Act appears quite similar to HB 12, except for some key differences. Like the previously introduced bill, SB 363 allows adults over 21 to possess up to 2 ounces of dried marijuana or 16 grams of cannabis extract. It also provides for the expungement of previous criminal records for breaking cannabis laws.

Unlike other legalization bills, this one allows adults over 21 to possess more than 2 ounces of dried cannabis or 16 grams of extract—but the amount in excess must be stored at the person’s private residence, and it would be illegal to transport more than those amounts.

Unlike HB 12, this bill joins the rest in banning cannabis cultivation in private for personal use. This has clearly become a point of supreme interest for whomever has the ears of our legislators, since four out of five of the legalization bills are dead set against allowing residents grow their own pot. It’s also likely that this is the move of a desperate government looking for any way to mitigate future losses as it struggles with drastically low coffers.

While lean times make the move understandable, it might be tough to reverse after it’s put on the books. After all, it’s rare that a government agency decrees that it’s taking too much money. This will ultimately be unfortunate for future residents who will also be struggling post-pandemic (arguably moreso than the state government), but no one ever accused New Mexico’s legislators of having too accurate of foresight.

Out in a Blaze of Glory?

State regulators are looking to suspend the business license of Santa Fe-based medical cannabis producer New Mexicann Natural Medicine.

According to Santa Fe New Mexican, the state Department of Health might revoke the company’s license for allegedly violating Medical Cannabis Program rules.

The issue sprang up after a fire broke out at one of New Mexicann’s Santa Fe locations in October. The fire reportedly started when employees were making cannabis extract and one of them accidentally spilled ethanol onto a hot plate. Two employees were severely injured in the explosion and had to be rushed to specialists at a Denver burn center. The employees’ names were never released to the public, and their current condition is unclear.

The DOH sent a notice dated Dec. 21 to the company saying it is considering revoking the license for violating Medical Cannabis Program rules by not using a closed-loop extraction system and by failing to instruct employees to turn off the hot plate before stirring open vessels of ethanol. The company has also been accused of failing to train staff how to perform emergency procedures.

“By lifting an open extraction vessel containing an ethanol-based solution in the immediate vicinity of an active heater plate, New Mexicann engaged in conduct that showed a willful and reckless disregard for health and safety,” Medical Cannabis Program Director Dominick Zurlo wrote in the letter.

The letter said the department would hold a hearing on the matter Jan. 4, but no such hearing appears to have taken place. A representative of DOH told reporters that the hearing will be rescheduled.

This isn’t the first time the company has been in trouble for an explosion on one of their properties. In 2016 the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined New Mexicann for numerous violations that were revealed following an investigation into an explosion that resulted in two employees suffering from third-degree burns.

One of those employees sued the company in 2017, claiming that the company did not provide proper ventilation or safety equipment like fire extinguishers. The lawsuit also claimed that the room where the explosion occurred did not give necessary access to exits and that this played a part in causing his injuries.


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