A frustrating game of hide-and-seek involving public records from the state’s medical cannabis program could be one step closer to being over. But New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas says the Department of Health’s proposal to get right with the state law doesn't go far enough.
At issue are department privacy policies that keep the names of licensed cannabis producers secret—rules that prompted the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and this reporter to
In a strongly worded letter sent to the state Health Department's Medical Cannabis Program Manager Andrea Sundberg last week, Balderas reversed an opinion his office issued in the summer. He now claims administrative regulations that shield information about the state’s public health program exceed the department’s statutory authority and “circumvent the mandates and intent” of the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).
“A public agency cannot unilaterally determine that it will withhold records by creating a confidentiality regulation, unsupported by legislative authority, to bypass the IPRA," writes Balderas.
He wants license applications from nonprofit groups that want to grow medication for more than 18,000 registered cannabis patients to become public record the moment they are received in Santa Fe.
The contentious privacy rules have been an issue for patients and open government advocates for years.
“Secret licenses to produce and manufacture state-sanctioned medications are inconceivable in an open society,” says Kip Purcell, a NMFOG board member and the attorney who filed the group’s legal complaint.
SFR has had numerous records requests denied by public records custodians since 2009, including site inspection reports and information about license takeover bids by out-of-state management companies, and last year, its request to review 86 new license applications was denied. Other documents released to SFR have been heavily redacted, including growers’ nonprofit organization bylaws, which state law already deems to be a public record. That complaint, according to a spokesman from the AG's office, is still under review. This fall, SFR used a database from the secretary of state to determine some information about nonprofits organizing for the purpose of growing and distributing cannabis.