Alibi V.28 No.40 • Oct 3-9, 2019 

Baked Goods

Still At It

DOH told to issue cards to non-residents, again

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Rob M.

The serve has been returned, and a state judge has ordered the New Mexico Department of Health to issue Medical Cannabis Program cards to out-of-state patients.

Last month, the DOH was ordered to start issuing cards to non-residents because of a wording change made to a medical expansion bill that defined a patient as a “person” instead of a “resident of New Mexico.” Lawmakers and the DOH said the word change was made during an early draft of the bill to make room for a reciprocity program that would allow patients enrolled in another state's medical cannabis program to take part in ours during extended stays.

Last week, State District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid again told the DOH that it has to start handing out those cards. But according to the Albuquerque Journal, he didn't go as far as holding Medical Cannabis Program Director Kenny Vigil in contempt of court (as was requested in a recent motion made by the plaintiffs in the case).

I'm officially over this story. It's boring, and I don't really understand it at all.

I've suggested that Ultra Health President and CEO Duke Rodriguez, a resident of Arizona and plaintiff in the case, was pressing the matter to manipulate the DOH into raising the limit on the number of plants producers are allowed to grow. According to NM Political Report, back in June, Rodriguez said that if the program was opened up to residents of other states, it would be “nearly impossible” for patients' needs to be met under current plant limits.

But now I'm not so sure. The whole mess seems grotesque, and the cost of this legal back-and-forth has got to be coming out of taxpayer pockets. These nonresidents might get the cards they want so bad, but it's likely to come with a heavy dose of resentment. How that will affect Ultra Health's bottom line is a mystery that will unfold soon enough.

Banking Bill Passes House

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was passed by the House last week with bipartisan support.

According to Fox Business, the bill—which would protect banks and financial institutions against being prosecuted for working with marijuana companies—passed 321 to 103. It even got some play from the GOP with 91 Republicans voting in favor. Only one Democrat voted against it.

One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, of Colorado, told reporters, “The SAFE Banking Act will go a long way in getting cash off our streets and providing certainty so financial institutions can work with cannabis businesses and employees.”

Currently, dispensaries are required to operate in a cash-only capacity if they are unable to find a credit union brave enough to hold their money. That means they have to keep large sums of untraceable cash onhand, making them targets for robbers. This forces marijuana companies to spend large amounts of cash on security companies to protect their assets, and that cost gets passed onto the consumer.

The bill will now move on to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Some have argued that the bill is a distraction from more comprehensive marijuana policy legislation. “I am proud to bring this legislation to the Floor, but I believe it does not go far enough,” said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. “This must be a first step toward the decriminalization and de-scheduling of marijuana … I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to make progress on this issue … including de-scheduling marijuana and providing relief to individuals and communities disproportionally affected by racial biases in the way federal marijuana laws have been enforced.”

Nevertheless, I'm sure some dispensary employees will sleep better tonight.

Cannabis Group Readies Report

The governor's Cannabis Legalization Working Group recently completed their three-month-long endeavor to research potential cannabis legalization policies. Now we get to wait and see what recommendations they're going to make.

The group—made up of medical cannabis professionals, advocates and lawmakers—have been holding public meetings to discuss what a marijuana policy might look like in New Mexico. They also toured dispensaries and solicited public comments online. The group reportedly received over 500 pages of citizen opinion.

The group plans to draft a report of their recommendations to the governor within the next few weeks. From what was said at the first meeting, the group's report will be an improvement on legislation that failed to pass earlier this year.

In an email, group leader and Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis wrote: “After months spent studying programs in other states, we saw a lot that could be done better. Here's what we will recommend: a new recreational marijuana program should fully fund it's own robust regulation, real investments in law enforcement to protect public safety from those who misuse legal marijuana, community reinvestment to repair the harms of failed drug policies of the past, real investments and use new revenue to fully subsidize the medical marijuana program so access to medicine is affordable. Revenue generated beyond those should be prioritized to address non-marijuana issues like rebuilding the behavioral health system and education.”

Earlier this month, they recommended not initiating state-run recreational shops—an idea from that failed bill that caused a stir when it was introduced. They also said zoning restrictions should be left up to local governments, but the ability to opt out of allowing dispensaries altogether should be denied.

The governor has said she will make legalization legislation a priority in 2020 as long as it addresses drugged driving, prevents child use and protects the medical cannabis industry.

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