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FRI: Cannabis sales skyrocket to new highs, Sanctioned encampments in ABQ will be allowed, + More

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Cannabis sales skyrocket to new highs in August - KUNM News, Albuquerque Journal

A new record high has been reached for cannabis sales in New Mexico.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, cannabis flew off the shelves in August, with the state’s Cannabis Control Division logging $24.2 million in adult-use sales. That’s larger than the last high in July where cannabis raked in $23.5 million.

Combined with medical sales, over $40.7 million was made last month.

Sale numbers were particularly notable in tourist towns and cities close to the border. Texico, Roswell, Portales and Clayton made up more than 30% of overall recreational sales. Ruiodoso and Taos saw sizable numbers with just over $700,000 and $400,000 of cannabis sold respectively.

A cannabis business owner told the Journal that the introduction of recreational use has skyrocketed profits and has overall been good for business.

Sanctioned encampments will be legally allowed, after ABQ Council fails to override mayor’s veto - By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

In the latest chapter of a months-long saga, the Albuquerque City Council on Wednesday opted to allow the establishment of “safe outdoor spaces” within the state’s largest city, an effort to give unsheltered folks a safe place to stay overnight.

At the meeting, the Council failed to muster the six votes required to override a veto from Mayor Tim Keller on legislation that would have prohibited city-sanctioned encampments from being allowed in the zoning code. It also would have imposed a one-year ban on them being built.

The Council actually approved legislation allowing for “safe outdoor spaces” in June but reversed course soon after. After initially supporting them, Councilor Brook Bassan has said outcry from constituents prompted her to introduce a bill banning sanctioned encampments.

The Council voted 6-3 on Aug. 15 to prohibit “safe outdoor spaces” from being created in city limits, though Keller vetoed the legislation soon afterward. His office has said sanctioned encampments are one of many tools city officials would like to deal with an ongoing housing crisis here.

Sanctioned encampments are allowed after a local group or entity applies to the city’s Planning Department. Neighbors and others are then allowed to weigh in. And they can appeal if the city approves it.

According to the city’s website, there are two approved “safe outdoor spaces,” though neither has opened. One is on the 700 block of Candelaria Road NE, and the other is at the 1200 block of Menaul Road NE. There have been eight applications so far. Four are awaiting or under review, and two were denied, according to the city.

The approved space on Menaul would have capacity for up to 50 people. The approval has prompted at least seven appeals from those in the area, including a law firm, a hotel and a neighborhood association.

Before the moratorium bill passed, Keller floated the idea of making Coronado Park into a sanctioned encampment at some point. Coronado Park was home to as many as 125 people without shelter, but the encampment was not sanctioned by the city. Citing safety risk to residents and city employees, the city recently closed the park to the public. At least 40 people were at the park at the time, many of whom are now finding shelter on city streets or elsewhere.

Before the park closed, city staff and a nonprofit organization surveyed 94 residents of the park about various topics, including whether they’d be happy to return to Coronado Park “if there are rules and security and limits on the number of belongings you have.”

Of respondents, 49 said they would be “very willing.”

In a statement about the council vote, Keller’s office said sanctioned encampments are one of many tools the administration will use to tackle homelessness.

“Albuquerque, as with nearly all major cities and towns across the United States, needs more tools, not less, to address the homelessness crisis while keeping our neighborhoods, parks and businesses safe,” spokesperson Ava Montoya said.

NM AG declines to charge deputies in woman's shooting death — Associated Press

New Mexico's attorney general has decided not to file charges against Bernalillo County deputies involved in the shooting death of a mentally ill woman.

The office of Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Thursday he was declining to prosecute after "extensive examination of the case."

Balderas says the 2019 fatal shooting of Elisha Lucero demonstrates the need to re-think how to investigate police shootings.

Lucero's family had asked the attorney general to take over the review in July 2020.

Her sister, Elaine Maestas, told the Albuquerque Journal she was not surprised but still heartbroken by the decision.

Authorities responded to the family's home after a relative called 911 saying Lucero, 28, had hit her uncle. The relative told authorities Lucero was mentally ill, needed help and was a threat to herself and others.

When deputies arrived, they said Lucero refused to come out but then ran out screaming and armed with a knife. Three sheriff's deputies shot Lucero, hitting her at least 21 times. She died at the scene.

A lawsuit filed by her family against the Bernalillo County Commission and Sheriff Manuel Gonzales was settled for $4 million.

GOP focuses on Hispanic voters with new Las Cruces center — Associated Press

The New Mexico Republican Party is bolstering efforts to reach Hispanic voters before the midterm elections with a new outreach center in Las Cruces.

Some GOP candidates and their supporters were on hand for the opening of the center inside a strip mall earlier this week.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports Mercedes Provencio Hollister will run the center as regional Hispanic event coordinator.

Provencio Hollister urges any Hispanic voter to come and ask questions.

State GOP Chair Steve Pearce says more Republican candidates and organizers need to go into communities where they have previously lagged.

The center is just one of nearly 40 Republican Hispanic Community Centers nationwide.

Maddy Mundy, a spokesperson with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the newspaper Democrats have always engaged with Hispanic voters. They don't just do it "eight weeks out from Election Day."

Complaint: Republican candidate for state AG hasn’t lived in NM long enough to run for office - By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

A former Bernalillo County official alleged on Wednesday that the Republican candidate for New Mexico attorney general has not lived in New Mexico for long enough to be qualified to run for the office.

Jeremy Michael Gay, of Gallup, is running against Democrat and Second Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez to become the state’s highest-ranking prosecutor.

In a civil complaint filed in First Judicial District Court, retired pastor James Collie alleges that Gay “fails to meet the New Mexico constitutional requirement of having resided continuously in New Mexico for five years preceding his election.”

“Nothing in Mr. Gay’s record suggests that prior to his move to Gallup, New Mexico in 2019, he had established any semblance of a residency in New Mexico,” Collie’s attorney Ryan Harrington wrote. “Nor is there any evidence that he was part of the New Mexico community or had knowledge of issues affecting the state of New Mexico.”

Collie is asking the court to order Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to deem Gay unqualified to be a candidate for attorney general and ensure that his name does not appear on the ballot in November.

According to the complaint, to be eligible to run for attorney general, Gay must have lived in New Mexico since Nov. 8, 2017, but he “did not establish a continued physical presence in the state of New Mexico” until he moved to Gallup in May 2019.

Collie attached a Florida Elections Division voter registration that appears to show that Gay was registered to vote in Florida from 2008 to 2018.

The complaint also contains a Marine Corps release certificate that indicates Gay joined the Judge Advocates General Corps and was stationed in Twentynine Palms, Calif., until he left the Corps in May 2019.

It also cites a New Mexico business filing showing Gay joined the Advocate Law Center in Gallup in September 2019, and Gay’s voter registration dated Jan. 9, 2020.

Representatives for both campaigns were not immediately available for comment. We will update this story if we hear back.

The Democratic Party of New Mexico issued a statement Thursday morning calling for Gay to be removed from the ballot.

“Republicans are trying to run a candidate who does not even meet the bare minimum to be the state’s top attorney,” said state party Chair Jessica Velasquez. “The New Mexico GOP’s candidate for attorney general isn’t constitutionally qualified for the office, has minimal prosecutorial experience and little connection to our state.”

Update: Sept. 8, 2022 at 4:03 p.m.:

GAY CAMPAIGN’S STATEMENT

Campaign Manager Noelle Gemmer said Gay and his family have “called New Mexico home since 2014,” and his wife was born in Gallup.

“Jeremy and his family temporarily left NM on active-duty orders with the U.S Marines and returned as soon as he entered the Reserve Forces,” Gemmer said. “This is a disgusting attack on a veteran for his service and a desperate attempt by the Raúl Torrez campaign to deny voters options at the ballot box. It’s nothing more than another attempt to distract from Torrez’s failed record as prosecutor where he declined to prosecute over 50% of violent felony cases and dismissed 40% of the cases that made it to court.”

BALLOTS SUPPOSED TO BE PRINTED FRIDAY

Whether Gay’s active-duty orders affect his residency will have to be decided by the courts, Secretary of State’s Office spokesperson Alex Curtas said. Whatever the judge decides, N.M. election administrators will follow that order, he said.

The complaint came just two days before the Secretary of State was set to print the ballots on Friday, Sept. 9, Curtas said. The timing of the printing is required by state law, Curtas said, and it is unclear if they would have to reprint the ballots in the event a judge grants Collie’s request and orders Toulouse Oliver to take Gay off the ballot.

“That’s the uncharted territory,” Curtas said. “A court has never ordered us to change these statutory deadlines. We’ve been very firm for a long time that this is the day the ballot gets set.”

This week, state election officials have been working with county governments to “lock the ballot” into its final version, he said.

Couy Griffin attends Otero County Commission meeting as a member of the public after his ouster - By Ryan Lowery, Source New Mexico

The Otero County Commission met Thursday for the first time since former Commissioner Couy Griffin was removed from office by court order earlier this week because of his participation in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Griffin’s nameplate and chair were both absent from the dais as the two remaining commissioners called the regular meeting to order. Griffin, however, attended the meeting and even spoke during the public comment session.

Each speaker was given three minutes to address the commission, and Griffin used his time to discuss two items on the agenda — funding for a road and a contract extension for the county attorney. But Griffin also used the final minute of his allotted time to address his removal from office, telling those in attendance that his computer was seized by county officials before he was notified that District Court Judge Francis J. Mathew had ruled Griffin could no longer serve in his elected position — or any other for the rest of his life.

“This has been the hardest time of my life, not that I’m trying to get anybody’s sympathy. But it’s been very difficult for me,” Griffin said. “I think that it’s just very difficult that I don’t have the respect of being able to be out by Friday without having the county sheriff or the sheriff’s department standing guard.”

In an interview Thursday, Griffin told Source New Mexico that he learned of the judge’s ruling during a phone call from the Otero County manager. That’s also when he learned he no longer had access to his county office, and that his county-issued computer had been removed from his office.

“That’s the thing that has hurt the most in this. I kind of was bracing myself because I figured that it was going to go this way,” Griffin said. “I’ve been in my office, cleaning my office out today with the undersheriff standing guard in the room. They won’t even give me a key to my office so I can get my stuff out without being surveilled by the sheriff’s department.”

Judge Mathew ruled Tuesday that Griffin was to be removed from his elected position and barred for life from holding any other elected federal and state positions.

The case against Griffin was initially filed in March by three New Mexico residents who argued Griffin should be removed from his elected position for violating the Constitution, specifically because of his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Griffin represented himself during a two-day bench trial last month in District Court in Santa Fe. In Tuesday’s decision, Judge Mathew ruled that Griffin had broken his oath to support the Constitution when he participated in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack in Washington, D.C., violating Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

Griffin said he plans to appeal the ruling and that during the appeals process, he won’t be representing himself. Instead, he will be hiring “some great legal minds.”

The decision to represent himself during the bench trial was made, Griffin said, because he felt he’d provided the judge with strong evidence to have the case dismissed, and he never thought the case would go to trial. He also expressed frustration that a judge, and not Otero County voters, had the final say.

“The left is always crying about how our democracy is under attack. Well what bigger example is there whenever the courts remove a duly elected representative only to make way for the governor to hand select who she wants to represent the people?” Griffin said. “Now it’s no longer the people’s choice. It’s the governor’s choice.”

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokesperson for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, confirmed that the governor will fill the vacancy, adding that the governor accepts “applications from eligible residents” as possible replacements.

“Gov. Lujan Grisham knows that New Mexicans expect their elected officials to uphold our Constitution and rule of law,” Sackett said. “Protecting our democracy cannot be optional — the people of Otero

County deserve elected officials committed to protecting and upholding our laws.”

And though he’s been removed from his seat on the county commission, Griffin showed that he won’t be silenced when it comes to county matters and is more than willing to address decisions made by his former colleagues as a private citizen. And being in the audience of Thursday’s meeting instead of being seated with the commissioners brought a specific feeling to his mind.

“Humility, brother,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s very humbling, and it’s very disappointing. … I know that sometimes you travel down a hard road to get to a better road, but God’s a gracious God, and I think he’s got me on that track.”

US restarts burns of forest fuel, paused after runaway blaze - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

The U.S. Forest Service is resuming its practice of intentionally lighting fires to clear brush and small trees from forested areas nationwide after a three-month hiatus to review the risks of runaway wildfires under increasingly severe climate conditions, the agency announced Thursday.

The prescribed fire program was put on hold in late May in the midst of a devastating wildfire sparked by the federal government near Las Vegas, New Mexico. The flames burned across more than 500 square miles (1,300 square kilometers) through remote communities in the southern reaches of the Rocky Mountains.

Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said prescribed burns will require new safeguards such as same-day authorization to keep pace with evolving weather and ground conditions.

He said the Forest Service will adopt mandatory tactics, taken from an in-depth review and public consultation process, that include a more robust scientific analysis of burn plans and a final on-site evaluation of the potential for human error linked to fatigue or inexperience.

Permission to light fires and other communications will be standardized to avoid missteps, amid efforts to learn from the small share of prescribed fires that escape control.

"It's our due diligence and I can't overstate that," Moore told The Associated Press. "Every time one of these fires happened, like the one down in New Mexico, you know, we lose trust and credibility in the communities that we serve and so we have to do this right."

Moore said the agency won't back away from intentional burns that he sees as a crucial tool in reducing the buildup of combustible material on forest floors and grasslands.

"Our climate is changing and we have the science to back that up," Moore said. "We need to increase the amount of work that we're doing by up to four times. We do feel that if we want to make a difference on that landscape, between forest thinning and prescribed burning, we really need to ramp it up. And we need to do it in a way that is safe, in a way that really instills public trust."

By the end of the year, the agency also wants to expand training not only for Forest Service staff but also community members who could be certified to participate directly in controlled wildfires.

To instill greater accountability, Moore said he will soon designate a specific Forest Service member at the national level to oversee implementation of the new requirements and tactics for prescribed burning.

Many forestry experts outside the federal government say prescribed burns need to be accompanied by sufficient oversight and new scientific tools for modeling of fire behavior.

Owen Burney, director of the John T. Harrington Forestry Research Center at New Mexico State University, said the Forest Service could instill greater trust in prescribed burns with independent oversight from outside the agency — not just Forest Service administrators.

"I don't think the Forest Service should be self-serving," Harrington said. "What they need to have is external advisers."

Jennifer Carbajal, who lived in Las Vegas as the government-sparked wildfire skirted the city, said she no longer considers prescribed burns viable after seeing people left homeless by the fire and the debris-choked flooding afterward.

"Everything needs to be reevaluated in light of the climate. Everything is getting exponentially worse," she said. "I don't think burning — prescribed burns — should be a tool in the kit anymore."

The Forest Service typically ignites 4,500 prescribed fires a year, aimed at treating more than 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers) across the National Forest system. Very few of the fires escape control — a fraction of 1% by Forest Service calculations.

Anticipated changes to the prescribe burn program also will be geared toward economic development and the possible introduction of new composite building products made from small diameter trees and wood particles, products that might incentivize better forest management and create local jobs.

Las Vegas resident Elmo Baca, a movie theater owner and chairman of a community foundation overseeing wildfire relief funds, said people with a lifetime of knowledge about local forests and weather conditions feel left out of decisions on prescribed burns.

"I would hope that going forward that the Forest Service would be more sensitive and cognizant of local people and their knowledge of the land," he said. "I like the idea of them training people outside of the Forest Service."

US changes names of places with racist term for Native women - By Mead Gruver Associated Press

The U.S. government has joined a ski resort and others that have quit using a racist term for a Native American woman by renaming hundreds of peaks, lakes, streams and other geographical features on federal lands in the West and elsewhere.

New names for nearly 650 places bearing the offensive word "squaw" include the mundane (Echo Peak, Texas), peculiar (No Name Island, Maine) and Indigenous terms (Nammi'I Naokwaide, Idaho) whose meaning at a glance will elude those unfamiliar with Native languages.

Nammi'I Naokwaide, located in traditional lands of the Shoshone and Bannock tribes in southern Idaho, means "Young Sister Creek." The tribes proposed the new name.

"I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming. That starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have graced federal locations for far too long," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

The changes announced Thursday capped an almost yearlong process that began after Haaland, the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency, took office in 2021. Haaland is from Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico.

The Native American Rights Fund, a nonprofit legal organization, welcomed the changes.

"Federal lands should be welcoming spaces for all citizens," deputy director Matthew Campbell said in a statement. "It is well past time for derogatory names to be removed and tribes to be included in the conversation."

Haaland in November declared the term derogatory and ordered members of the Board on Geographic Names, the Interior Department panel that oversees uniform naming of places in the U.S., and others to come up with alternatives.

Haaland meanwhile created a panel that will take suggestions from the public on changing other places named with derogatory terms.

Other places renamed include Colorado's Mestaa'ėhehe (pronounced "mess-taw-HAY") Pass near Mestaa'ėhehe Mountain about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Denver. The new name honors an influential translator, Owl Woman, who mediated between Native Americans and white traders and soldiers in what is now southern Colorado.

The Board on Geographic Names approved changing the mountain's name in December.

While the offensive term in question, identified as "sq___" by the Interior Department on Thursday, has met wide scorn in the U.S. only somewhat recently, changing place names in response to broadening opposition to racism has a long precedent.

The department ordered the renaming of places carrying a derogatory term for Black people in 1962 and those with a derogatory term for Japanese people in 1974.

The private sector in some cases has taken the lead in changing the offensive term for Native women. Last year, a California ski resort changed its name to Palisades Tahoe.

A Maine ski area also committed in 2021 to changing its name, two decades after that state removed the slur from names of communities and landmarks, though it has yet to do so.

The term originated in the Algonquin language and may have once simply meant "woman." But over time, the word morphed into a misogynist and racist term to disparage Indigenous women, experts say.

California, meanwhile, has taken its own steps to remove the word from place names. The state Legislature in August passed a bill that would remove the word from more than 100 places beginning in 2025.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has until the end of September to decide whether to sign the bill into law.