No can do
The third time has proven not the charm for the state’s Cannabis Control Division, which has just lost its third director since its inception. SFR has learned Acting Director Andrew Vallejos submitted his resignation March 21, effective at the end of the month. Vallejos took the reins from Carolina Barrera in August 2022. She had been appointed to the position after the division’s first director, Kristen Thomson, resigned just several months into the job. Thomson, who had moved to New Mexico from Colorado for the position after working as a lobbyist, took a job with Weeds, a consulting firm co-owned by Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis. Vallejos’ departure also means a vacant position within the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, as he was serving as director of both that and the cannabis division. Vallejos’ resignation follows a mixed-bag legislative session for cannabis; ICYMI, SFR’s Leaf Brief newsletter has the scorecard; a look at how other issues fared is available here.
Supporting abortion health care and beyond in NM
The Chronicle of Philanthropy examines efforts underway in southern New Mexico to shore up not just emergency abortion access during perilous times for reproductive freedom, but a full-spectrum of “sustainable reproductive-health care.” In the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade last June, the Chronicle notes, “grant makers quickly moved dollars to expand the number of abortion providers in states where the procedure was still legal.” Though “well-meaning,” moving money into states where abortion remained legal proved a “short-sighted strategy” given “the cultural and political dynamics, safety concerns, travel logistics, and complexity of new legal constraints.” Funders need instead to look for creative local and state approaches that are working to address long-held gaps in reproductive health care, particularly in rural areas and for marginalized communities. The story cites an initiative in New Mexico as an example of such efforts, in which four organizations are collaborating on the Reproductive Healthcare Success Project, which will culminate in a forthcoming full-service clinic in Las Cruces, backed with a $10 million pledge in state dollars from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Such efforts have become even more crucial given the unfolding uncertainties for abortion access. While the Legislature passed and the governor signed House Bill 7, the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Freedom Act, barring local entities from restricting access to abortion, anti-abortion leaders have already vowed to challenge the law in court. They would do so using a 19th-century law called the Comstock Act, a law activists are also using to try to challenge the legality of mail delivery of the abortion pill mifepristone. The Washington Post has this short primer on how anti-abortionists are using this old obscenity law to try to block access to reproductive health care.
NM environment by the numbers
First the good news: According to a recent report from the environment department, for the second quarter of the 2023 fiscal year, 99.9% of New Mexicans breathed clean air and 90.5% of them drank safe drinking water. During inspections, solid and infectious waste management facilities, as well as groundwater discharge permittees were 100% in compliance, and liquid waste program systems were 99.8% in compliance. In less good news, air emitting sources were only 60% in compliance; surface water discharge permittees were just 50% in compliance; and hazardous waste management facilities were a mere 10.3% in compliance. The data comes via a performance assessment released yesterday and described in a news release as a way for the “public, stakeholders, and legislators…to track the department’s progress in protecting public health and the environment.” In addition to assessing myriad public health and environmental indicators, the report also provides data on budget and staffing challenges. For example, the report notes that “based on existing staffing levels and assuming 235 workdays per year, it would take most NMED programs multiple years to assure compliance with all permitted or licensed facilities.” The department’s vacancy rate was 20.6% during the time period the report covers: Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 2022.
Law unto itself
It remains to be seen what consequences Santa Fe Magistrate Judge Dev Atma Khalsa will face in the aftermath of his Feb. 26 vehicular accident and DWI arrest, due to secrecy provisions in the state constitution governing judicial behavior. “The only time something is public upon filing is if we have a trial here at the commission, and the trial record is public upon filing with the Supreme Court,” Judicial Standards Commission Executive Director and General Counsel Phyllis Dominguez tells SFR. Khalsa pleaded not guilty on March 1 of misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence of alcohol, driving without a valid license and careless driving. He has been removed from hearing cases and barred from the courthouse. Khalsa had been on the job for three months at the time of his arrest following last year’s election. During his three-way primary race, Khalsa had said he intended to focus on “rights adjudication” in DWI cases if elected. During his own DWI arrest, Khalsa referenced his position at judge at least once to Santa Fe Police, as captured in this video. His case is scheduled for a Municipal Court pretrial conference March 29.
COVID-19 by the numbers
Reported March 21: New cases: 200; 672,997 total cases. Deaths: six; Santa Fe County has had 402 total deaths; 9,084 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 53; patients on ventilators: six
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent March 16 “community levels” map shows two counties (San Juan and McKinley) are now yellow—aka medium—level. The rest of the state remains at green—aka low—levels. Corresponding recommendations for each level can be found here.
Resources: Receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests per household via COVIDTests.gov; Check availability for additional free COVID-19 tests through Project ACT; CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; COVID-19 treatment info; NMDOH immunocompromised tool kit. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453. DOH encourages residents to download the NM Notify app and to report positive COVID-19 home tests on the app.
You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.
On today’s edition of Native America Calling, the show, which is approaching its 28th year, takes a look back and talks to folks who have made the program possible over the past few decades, while also looking to its future. The special edition follows the show’s recognition yesterday at the White House, where it received a 2021 National Humanities Medal “for connecting tribal and non-tribal communities across the United States,” the White House citation reads. A production of Koahnic Broadcast Corporation, Native America Calling is produced in Albuquerque and hosted and produced by Shawn Spruce (Pueblo of Laguna); with Senior Producer Andi Murphy (Diné); Associate Producer Sol Traverso (Athabascan, Puerto Rican); Production Engineer Marino Spencer (Diné) and Executive Producer Art Hughes. “We are grateful and humbled to receive this recognition for Native America Calling’s service to listeners across the nation, and for Native communities in particular,” Koahnic’s President and CEO Jaclyn Sallee (Iñupiaq) said in a statement.
The University of New Mexico’s online Coursera offering for Curanderismo: Traditional Healing Using Plants, which opened yesterday, had as of press time already 22,690 enrollees. The free, beginner-level course will help students “apply basic principles of traditional medicine to approach health and illnesses” and is but one offering UNM has for its increasingly popular curanderismo program. Taught by UNM Professor and former Vice President of Student Affairs Eliseo “Cheo” Torres and doctoral candidate Mario Del Angel Guevara, the beginner course is one of five Torres and Guevara offer on Coursera. They also have in-person courses on the UNM campus in June and online ones in July through Continuing Education. Both Torres and Guevara talk about their training and years in the field in a recent UNM profile. Torres, who began teaching the course at UNM more than 20 years ago after successfully doing so at Texas A&M-Kingsville and Corpus Christi, says studying curanderismo allows students to “reclaim a part of a tradition of New Mexico that has been around for years. Their grandmothers knew about traditional medicine. They used a lot of herbs for healing. They use some rituals, but it’s been lost, so now we’re reclaiming some of the lost traditions. The students will learn about that and they’ll learn a better appreciation of Mother Earth.”
All for the best
Come May, SFR’s Best of Santa Fe—the OG competition—will open for voting. Until then, we can enjoy best of designations from various corners of the country/internet. For instance, Yelp has a run-down on the “best” burritos in every state (presumably based on Yelp rankings), and singles out Santa Fe’s Palacio Cafe for New Mexico’s pick. 24/7 Wall Street takes a look at America’s “best” pie shops, and includes Burro Street Bakery in Cloudcroft on its list—with a special shout-out to its caramel apple walnut pie (and, speaking of Cloudcroft, The Bite, which exclusively covers New Mexico’s culinary scene, has a new guide to Cloudcroft that has us pretty excited to visit). The Travel has suggestions for the best hostels for budget travelers to the Four Corners area, including Farmington’s Silver River Adobe Inn and Kokopelli’s Cave (both of which appear to be bed and breakfasts rather than hostels). Albuquerque also rated “better than average” (not quite best) on a list of cities suited for allergy sufferers. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America 2023 report ranks Albuquerque 93rd on its list of 100 metropolitan areas, and has an exhaustive breakdown of cities and how they fare for grass pollen, weed pollen and the like. And speaking of weed, High Times has announced it plans to gauge New Mexico’s best cannabis offerings with the High Times Cannabis Cup New Mexico: People’s Choice Edition 2023; pre-registration available now for information on judging kits.
Wet, warm, windy
The National Weather Service forecasts a 40% chance of showers today mainly after noon. Otherwise, it will be mostly cloudy, with a high temperature near 56 degrees and windy, with a south wind 10 to 20 mph becoming southwest 20 to 30 mph in the afternoon and winds that could gust as high as 40 mph. More snow in the mountains expected, with “unsettled” weather through the rest of the week.
Thanks for reading! The Word thinks a rebel sonnet about parasites suits the day! (For poetry closer to home, be sure to check out the winners of SFR’s 2023 poetry competition, which we announced today).