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Shendo Carries Bills on Medical Cannabis, Fracking

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District 22 Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., D-Bernalillo, McKinley, San Juan, Sandoval and Rio Arriba counties, has thus far sponsored two pieces of legislation, one that would allow the production of cannabis on tribal land and another proposing a moratorium on permits for fracking.

The first is a bill that would allow for intergovernmental agreements between the Department of Health and the New Mexico Indian nations, tribes and pueblos that participate in the state’s medical cannabis program. It’s unclear exactly how those agreements would allow tribal governments to participate, since marijuana is still criminalized at the federal level.

Senate Bill 299 provides the structure for the Department of Health to enter into intergovernmental agreements with tribal authorities to implement medical cannabis programs under the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act.

The bill would add only 149 words to existing law. It went before the Indian Affairs committee Tuesday.

A representative from Shendo’s office said Jan. 28 it was still too early to comment on the bill. She said she expects the bill will be modified during the committee process and have a more detailed set of guidelines and rules by the time it makes it to the Senate floor.

While expansion of access to medical cannabis is a major issue for some who live on tribal lands, the Department of Health raised several concerns with the new bill noted in the Fiscal Impact Report.

The Department licenses only non-profit corporations to grow and distribute cannabis to patients and caregivers, and limits the number of producers to 35. There are currently no licensed producers on tribal land.

“The bill suggests that American Indian tribes, pueblos, and nations would be growing medical cannabis on tribal or pueblo land and transporting and selling the cannabis outside the boundaries of tribes and pueblos,” the Department is quoted as saying in the report.

The problem for tribal authorities is that cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance according to federal law, and commercial transport of cannabis across tribal boundaries could create additional problems with federal regulations.

The Indian Affairs Department noted that lawmakers resolved in 2018 to convene a task force to make recommendations to improve access to medical cannabis for New Mexicans, the report said.

The task force recommended the state explore intergovernmental agreements with Indian nations, tribes and pueblos to allow them to participate as licensed producers, but the Indian Affairs Department also noted that marijuana is still a Schedule I narcotic subject to federal laws and the jurisdictional issues surrounding the bill were extremely complex.

Shendo and District 16 Sen. Sedillo Lopez, D-Bernalillo County, presented Monday a four-year prohibition on new permits for hydraulic fracturing, a process that uses pressurized fluids to break apart rock underground so that petroleum can flow more easily.

Shendo is concerned about the impact of fracking on tribal lands and the lack of consultation with tribes about fracking, according to a press release.

Lopez is asking for the moratorium to give state officials more time to study the impact of fracking on the environment, the release states. Existing wells will still be able to operate.

“Unfortunately, the Martinez administration starved the state agencies that could study and regulate fracking,” Lopez is quoted as saying in the release. “A pause will protect the aquifers being threatened by fracking now.”

She said current law and regulation are not protecting people, water, land or the climate.

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