Alibi V.25 No.2 • Jan 14-20, 2016 

Newscity

Producer Confidentiality Questioned

News City
Robert Maestas

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 weedthose individuals are also patients whose confidential status is guaranteed by lawbut 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.

WIPP Regulations Updated

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M.one of the largest nuclear dumps in the nationremains indefinitely closed after an accident in 2014. Regulators from the state of New Mexico recently approved changes to several permits that proponents say will allow WIPP site contractors and the Department of Energy to move with more safety and efficiency towards re-opening the storage facilitya move that anti-nuclear activists say may actually cause more potentially dangerous leakage to occur. Management at WIPP maintains that it has been difficult to sample air from underground locations and have asked that monitoring stations be moved to above-ground locations. Further, they've asked to end required flow rates for the ventilation system that filters air at the huge subterranean facility. Though the state approved these changes to the operation of WIPP, two organizations have been vociferous in their opposition to the changes. The Southwest Research and Information Center and Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety have both gone on record as naysayers to the altered regulations. SRIC spokesman Dan Hancock maintains that “weakening permit requirements will make it even more likely that additional ‘events’ will occur.” Officials at the New Mexico Department of Environment feel otherwise, noting “the modifications that the department has added are actually going to strengthen that sampling and monitoring program” at the facility designed to store transuranic waste for periods of no less than 10,000 years.