Producer Confidentiality Questioned
In October 2015, New Mexico's Health Department announced it was increasing the number of authorized medical cannabis producers by 12 to augment production and availability for the more than 18,000 New Mexicans who are part of the program. Applicants for the coveted position of state-sanctioned marijuana growers were originally granted anonymity as part of the process. Now, State Attorney General Hector Balderas says the Health Department is exceeding its authority by granting this sort of confidentiality. After the process became the target of a lawsuit by a well-known local journalist and the New Mexico Federation for Open Government, the Attorney General's office got on board, sending a letter to the Health Department asking for changes to the program. The Health Department is out of its ken with regards to shielding applicants from public scrutiny, according to Balderas who wrote, “The importance of maintaining an open and accessible government is essential to the function of democracy. A public agency cannot unilaterally determine that it will withhold records by creating a confidentiality regulation, unsupported by legislative authority, to bypass the IPRA (Inspection of Public Records Act).”
Proponents of continued confidentiality, lawyers representing those opposed and officials from the Attorney General's Office and the Health Department met on Wednesday, Jan. 6, to discuss the issue. Staff from the AG's office stressed that they did not want to change rules regarding individuals granted a personal production license to grow their own medical weed—those individuals are also patients whose confidential status is guaranteed by law—but rather nonprofit organizations that seek to become licensed producers. Balderas wants the names of those organizations available for public review. A recommendation from Hearing Officer Craig Erickson will be prepared within a month and passed on to NM Health Secretary Rhetta Ward for final disposition.