MON: Governor Signs Cannabis Legalization Bill, New Mexico Lags Southwest In Broadband, + More

Apr 12, 2021


New Mexico Governor Signs Bill To Legalize Recreational Pot - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation Monday legalizing recreational marijuana use within months and kicking off sales next year, making it the seventh state since November to put an end to pot prohibition.

The governor, a Democrat, has supported marijuana reform as a way to create jobs and shore up state revenue.

On Monday, she also touched on concerns about the harm inflicted on racial and ethnic minorities by drug criminalization and tough policing, noting that the new law could free about 100 from prison and expunge criminal records for thousands of residents.

"It is good for workers. It is good for entrepreneurs. It is good for consumers," she said of legalization. "And it brings about social justice in ways in which we have been talking about and advocating for, for decades."

The signed bill gives the governor a strong hand in oversight of recreational marijuana through her appointed superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department.

Agency Superintendent Linda Trujillo said people age 21 and over will be allowed start growing marijuana at home and possess up to 2 ounces (56 grams) of cannabis outside their homes starting on June 29.

Recreational cannabis sales start next year by April 1 at state-licensed dispensaries.

Lujan Grisham highlighted that licensed cannabis farmers can begin scaling up cultivation several months ahead of opening day in efforts to keep pace with demands when sales begin.

New Mexico voters ousted ardent opponents of legalization from the state Senate in the 2020 Democratic primary, opening the way for recreational marijuana.

The governor called a special legislative session to tackle the issue in late March after legalization efforts faltered.

Legislators rallied behind a legalization framework from state Rep. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque that provides automated procedures for expunging past pot convictions.

Martinez said he hopes that a spate of legalization efforts by states will spur the federal government to follow suit, linking tides of immigration from Central America to drug-cartel violence and related corruption.

"I grew up along the border. I've seen what the war on drugs has done," Martinez said. "I'm proud that New Mexico — little old New Mexico — has done its part to tell the federal government once and for all to legalize cannabis for the people."

Republican lawmakers were notably absent from the signing ceremony, though GOP state Sen. Cliff Pirtle was credited with influencing the outcome through a competing bill that emphasized free markets and public safety.

Regulators in early legalization states have been whipsawed by initial fluctuations in marijuana supplies and prices, amid concerns about child access and workplace and roadway safety.

In New Mexico, regulators will be able to put a cap on marijuana cultivation quantities for years to come and impose a per-plant state fee of up to $50 a year. The new law mandates child-proof packaging and defers to employers on whether workers can indulge in marijuana.

At the same time, home marijuana growers will be allowed to grow up to six plants per person, or 12 per household. The scent of marijuana will no longer be grounds for police searches.

Local governments can't prohibit marijuana businesses from setting up shop. They can have a say through zoning about the location and hours of operation.

Medical marijuana dispensaries already are staking out territory in small towns near the border with Texas — a major potential market for marijuana tourism. It remains illegal to transport marijuana across state lines.

Challenges await state regulators as they prepare to accept applications for a variety of marijuana business licenses by the start of 2022 for enterprises such as quality testing labs, industrial operations that grow, refine, package and sell cannabis products and craft marijuana "microbusiness" that grow only up to 200 plants.

Rules also are due by the start of 2022 on product safety, minimum qualifications for a marijuana business license and standards for vetting and training "cannabis servers" — who must hold a state permit and be 21 or older.

The state will levy an excise tax on recreational pot sales that starts at 12% and rises over time to 18%, on top of current taxes on sales.

All taxes will be waived on medical marijuana. Decisions are still pending about exactly how much marijuana the industry must set aside for qualified medical cannabis patients.

Enrollment in the state's existing medical marijuana program climbed in March to more than 112,000 patients -- about 5% of the state's population of 2.1 million residents.

The approved legislation allows the state to forge agreements with Native American tribal governments that could open the marijuana industry to tribal enterprises.

Albuquerque High School To Close Due To COVID-19 CasesKUNM

Eldorado High School in Albuquerque is closing for two weeks after several students tested positive for COVID-19.

Albuquerque Public Schools sent a letter to families and staff informing them that the campus will close and switch to remote learning following a closure order from the New Mexico Public Education Department.

The letter notes the department requires schools to close within 7 days of multiple positive cases. APS says all but one of the positive cases at Eldorado was apparently contracted off the campus.

The letter says students and staff who had contact with those who tested positive will be notified and should quarantine for 10 days as required by the Department of Health.

The school is suspending all practices and competitions for two weeks.

The New Mexico state health officials on Monday reported 647 new COVID-19 cases from Saturday to Monday and 3 additional deaths. That included 227 new cases in Bernalillo County, where Eldorado is located.

Navajo Nation Reports No COVID-19 Deaths For 2nd Day In RowAssociated Press

The Navajo Nation on Monday reported two new confirmed COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths for the second consecutive day.

The latest numbers brought the pandemic totals on the tribe's reservation to 30,267 cases and 1,262 known deaths.

Tribal officials had ordered a weekend lockdown over fears that a new variant could drive another deadly surge.

The Stay-At-Home order required all Navajo Nation residents to refrain from unnecessary travel to help limit the spread of the virus, including a new and more contagious strain.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez last week announced the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 B.1.429 variant on the reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The variant was first identified in the state of California and has since been detected across the southwest U.S.

So far, nearly 16,500 people on the Navajo Nation have recovered from COVID-19.

Albuquerque Issue Summons To Armed Man At Downtown RallyAssociated Press

Police say one armed man showed up for a planned white supremacist rally in downtown Albuquerque.

Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos Jr. says police had prepared Sunday for the possibility of a huge turnout but it never materialized.

Authorities say an armed man, accompanied by two women and two children, nearly came to blows with a few hundred counter-protesters at Civic Plaza.

Gallegos says officers moved all five into the Albuquerque Convention Center to defuse the situation.

No arrests were made but police issued a court summons to the armed man on one charge of child endangerment.

Gallegos says officers also responded to a fight in Civic Plaza. One person was injured but declined medical treatment or to press charges.

New Mexico Leads US Southwest In Broadband Needs - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico has the highest percentage of residents in the U.S. Southwest without adequate broadband internet service, a problem highlighted Monday by the Biden administration as it looks to infuse more than $2 trillion into infrastructure projects nationwide.

The administration released details about each state's needs for everything from internet access to highways, affordable housing and drinking water projects.

In New Mexico, the federal government estimates that 22% of residents live in areas where there's no broadband infrastructure that provides acceptable internet speeds. Nearly 70% are in areas where there's only one such internet provider.

The coronavirus pandemic highlighted connectivity problems over the past year as schools turned to remote learning and other services were forced to go online only.

About one in five New Mexico households do not have an internet subscription, according to the administration's summary.

Around the Southwest, the percentages of households without subscriptions are much lower — ranging from around 9% in Utah and Colorado to 13% in Arizona and 14% in Nevada.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico Democrat who chairs a congressional subcommittee that has been focusing on the digital divide, recently introduced legislation with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that would reimburse schools for installing Wi-Fi on buses.

Luján also introduced a measure that would authorize $5 billion for a program that makes low-interest financing available for broadband infrastructure projects.

Luján said at a hearing last month that the goal should be "100% connectivity" with fast, affordable internet nationwide. He told the story of a New Mexico middle school student who had to sit in the sun all day to connect to Wi-Fi and ended up with heatstroke.

Luján told The Associated Press in an email Monday that bridging the divide, tackling the homework gap and promoting digital equity are longstanding priorities.

"Broadband has quickly become an essential utility, making it possible for students to learn, doctors to provide life-saving care, and businesses to keep their doors open during this pandemic," he said. "Sadly, in too many communities across our state, we're falling short of connecting every New Mexican."

The state-by-state needs outlined by the Biden administration indicate a massive backlog after years of repairs being deferred and delayed. Most states received a letter grade on their infrastructure, with the highest grade of C-plus going to Georgia and Utah.

New Mexico did not get a grade, but the summary indicated that its 207 bridges and more than 3,800 miles of highway are in poor condition and costing drivers $767 per year on average.

Over the next two decades, New Mexico's drinking water infrastructure will require an estimated $1.4 billion in additional funding. More than half of residents live in places where child care is hard to find, and 126,000 renters are spending more than 30% of their income on rent due to a lack of affordable housing.

Alamogordo Man Loses High Court Appeal Of Murder ConvictionAssociated Press

An Alamogordo man serving life in prison for murder and other crimes has lost an appeal.

The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the convictions Monday of Robert "Bob" Chavez in the 2011 killing of a man whose body was later burned.

Chavez's attorneys had argued he should not have been tried in 2019 jointly with Matias Loza, who pleaded guilty to murder and other charges.

The state's highest court unanimously found that a joint trial did not impact Chavez's civil rights or his defense.

Prosecutors say Chavez, his brother Joe and Loza ran a drug-trafficking gang called the AZ Boys. It originated in the Phoenix area but they moved to Alamogordo.

All three were implicated in the death of Richard Valdez. According to prosecutors, Valdez was killed the day after an altercation at a restaurant. Chavez's nephew testified he helped his uncle and Loza beat Valdez before Loza shot him to death. Valdez's body was then set on fire inside a car. The nephew admitted that Chavez gave him matches to start the blaze. Other evidence included a recorded conversation of Chavez talking about a plan to kill the victim.

The Chavez brothers and Loza were also indicted in 2019 in the 2009 execution-style slayings of Max Griego Jr. and his girlfriend, Mary Hudson Gutierrez.

Crews Work To Contain 2 Small Wildfires On Rio Chama Bosque - Associated Press

Crews were working Sunday to fully contain two small wildfires on the Rio Chama bosque that forced some evacuations of residents.

Rio Arriba County Sheriff's officials said evacuations were lifted Saturday night and the cause of the wildfires were under investigation.

The fires broke out Saturday afternoon.

Authorities said one wildfire was burning in Abiquiu and at least one residence was charred.

The second fire was burning two miles away to the north near U.S. Highway 85. 

On Sunday, authorities reported resources from the county and the state's forestry division were working to secure the fire's perimeter and mop up hot spots. 

Multiple structures were no longer threatened, according to fire officials.

Demolition Of Bernalillo County's Closed Jail Underway - KRQE-TV, Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The months-long process of demolishing Bernalillo County's long-closed old jail has started in downtown Albuquerque. 

KRQE-TV reports that a construction company's crews are working inside the building to remove fixtures and other items for recycling or for safety reasons. 

Demolition and creation of the parking area is expected to take roughly 10 months at a cost of about $2.4 million. 

The plan is to use the property for a 150-space parking lot for county vehicles, at least until a better use surfaces.

The building had not been used as a jail for about a decade. 

The Albuquerque Journal reported a private company leased the property to house federal inmates until 2011 after the county moved its inmates to a new facility in 2003. 

A study concluded that rehabilitating the building for use as a jail would have been too costly.

Church Official Warns Of Financial Flood Due To Abuse Claims – Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A top official with the Archdiocese of Santa Fe says a financial flood from clergy sex abuse claims is coming and a settlement is the dam to prevent devastation to parishes. 

A letter from the Rev. Glennon Jones is posted on the archdiocese's website, saying that progress is being made in collecting donations for a bankruptcy settlement involving hundreds of allegations of child sex abuse perpetrated by priests and other clergy over the decades. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the archdiocese filed for reorganization in late 2018 to deal with the surge of claims. 

An estimated $52 million has been paid in out-of-court settlements to victims in prior years.

Officer Killed During Feb. Traffic Stop Had Asked For Rifle - Associated Press

Newly released information on the killing of a New Mexico State Police Officer during a Feb. 4 traffic stop indicates he was caught by surprise when a man who'd agreed to temporarily surrender a rifle instead opened fire. 

According to a State Police statement and video excerpts released Friday, 39-year-old Omar Felix Cueva of Deming fired at least once at Officer Darian Jarrott across the pickup truck's bed and then fatally shot Jarrott after he ducked and fell.  

“Cueva fired several more rounds at Officer Jarrott who was struck by gunfire and killed," the statement said. “As Cueva ran toward the front of the truck on the passenger’s side, he shot Officer Jarrott point-blank in the back of the head."

Authorities previously said Cueva fatally shot Jarrott after being pulled over on Interstate 10 west of Las Cruces. 

Cueva later died in a shootout with other officers after a pursuit.


Navajo President Vetoes Reopening Tribal Roads To Visitors - Associated Press

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has vetoed a resolution to reopen tribal roads on the reservation to tourists and other visitors. 

Nez said Friday in a statement that he vetoed the resolution approved March 31 by the Navajo Nation Council because COVID-19 variants are spreading in the region and because more people need to be vaccinated to move closer to herd immunity. 

Nez also said the Navajo people's health must be prioritized over visitors' desires. 

The closure does not affect state highways that pass through the reservation, which includes parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Navajo Nation Reports 16 New COVID-19 Cases, 2 More Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation has reported 16 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths. 

The latest numbers released Saturday night brought the pandemic totals on the tribe's reservation to 30,255 cases and 1,262 known deaths. 

Tribal officials had ordered a weekend lockdown over fears that a new variant could drive another deadly surge. 

The Stay-At-Home order required all Navajo Nation residents to refrain from unnecessary travel to help limit the spread of the virus, including a new and more contagious strain.  

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez on Tuesday announced the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 B.1.429 variant on the reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Police Arrest Man Accused Of Carjacking Good Samaritan - KRQE-TV, Associated Press

The family of a 62-year-old woman says she is still in a Texas hospital after a man she offered to help stole her car in New Mexico and ran over her legs. 

KRQE-TV reported Friday that Alyson Lyons is receiving treatment for severe road rash, gashes to her head, a fractured wrist and her legs. 

Her family said Lyons offered to drive the man to a truck stop. On the way, the man allegedly pulled a knife, forced her out and struck her with the car as he drove off. 

New Mexico State Police arrested 22-year-old Mario Caballero after he led police in a pursuit in Lyons' vehicle. 

Caballero's lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.