Pubdate: Thu, 07 Jan 2016
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2016 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Olivier Uyttebrouck


Producers: Rule Change Will Expose Us to Criminals

SANTA FE - Medical marijuana producers told state health officials 
Wednesday that disclosing the locations of growing facilities would 
invite criminals to burglarize the sites, while open-records 
advocates countered that greater transparency will help ensure fair 
and effective management of the state's cannabis program.

"We have a product that criminals want," said Eric Briones, founder 
of the Minerva Canna Group of Los Ranchos, one of 23 nonprofits 
licensed by the state Department of Health to grow and sell medical 
pot. Minerva must conduct its business in cash because banks don't 
take deposits from cannabis growers, he said. "We have cannabis and 
we have cash."

Briones was among dozens of speakers at a New Mexico Department of 
Health hearing Wednesday in Santa Fe, held to gather public comment 
about proposed rule changes to New Mexico's medical cannabis program. 
The proposed changes would remove a confidentiality provision that 
conceals information about licensed nonprofit producers, including 
the locations of growing facilities and the identities of board 
members and employees.

Craig Erickson, an attorney acting as the hearing officer for the 
proposed rules, said he will draft a recommendation within 30 days 
for Health Secretary Rhetta Ward, who will make a final decision 
about the new rules.

Kip Purcell, an attorney who filed a lawsuit in July against the 
Department of Health seeking public disclosure about medical cannabis 
producers, said growers knowingly assumed the risk of producing a 
product that remains illegal under federal law.

"The producers went into this with open eyes," Purcell said after the 
hearing. "In the meantime, citizens here have a right to know who 
their neighbors are."

Purcell filed the lawsuit on behalf of freelance journalist Peter St. 
Cyr and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. It contends 
that concealing the identities of dispensaries and producers violates 
the state's Inspection of Public Records Act.

The proposed regulations would maintain confidentiality for groups 
applying to become licensed nonprofit producers until the closure of 
the application period. That provision prompted Attorney General 
Hector Balderas to send a letter to Department of Health officials on 
Monday saying that the 2007 medical cannabis laws doesn't authorize 
the agency to conceal applications from nonprofits.

Tania Maestas, director of the Attorney General's open government 
division, told a hearing officer Wednesday that Balderas does not 
advocate disclosing the names of people who have received a personal 
production license, which allows them to grow their own supply of 
medical pot. More than 4,000 New Mexicans have personal production licenses.

Maestas clarified the intent of the letter, saying Balderas objected 
to a proposed rule change that would create a specific exemption for 
people with personal production licenses, which would allow the 
agency to conceal their identities.

Maestas said the Department of Health already has the authority to 
conceal patients with personal production licenses because they are 
among some 20,000 New Mexicans licensed to legally purchase medical 
marijuana. The state's medical marijuana law specifically authorizes 
the Department of Health to keep confidential the identities of 
patients licensed to legally purchase medical pot.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom