New Mexico's Health Department may soon be investigated for corrupt practices and favoritism after coming under fire for manipulating the licensing system some days before it was stripped of its cannabis regulatory powers.
The last-minute licensing has cast doubt over the entire operations of the department throughout the years it was in charge. Some have claimed that this may not be a stand-alone occurrence, insisting that what brought it to light was that the authority of the program was being changed.
Issuing Licences Without Notice
When the state has new openings for cannabis business, announcements are made for a number of interested individuals to apply.
The New Mexico Department of Health went against the approved procedures when it failed to give full notice of the available license to the interested parties. The department showed favoritism by allowing only one company to enter into the race and win the license unopposed. The last-minute events of the agency call for a deep investigation into their affairs.
The license which was granted to GH LLC, Albuquerque came a few days before the department of health passed on the mantle of the state's Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) to the new cannabis control division.
The new division was established a few weeks after recreational cannabis was legalized by the New Mexico lawmakers.
The last-minute awarded license is the first license the department of health has issued in six years. For now, it is clear that the department opened a short and announced application period in June, after which the selected favorites were issued the license.
Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the President and CEO of New Mexico's Top Organics-Ultra Health expressed his disappointment in an interview with their reporters. Duke Rodriguez who heads the state's largest medical cannabis business says that the new license process kick-started at the end of the health department's rule has ignited nothing more than distrust and unending questions.
Duke added that everyone in the industry is raising eyebrows concerning the news. He insisted that there are a considerable number of people with integrity who have put in their money, effort, time, and other required resources into securing licenses for their businesses, not knowing that people who haven't put in up to half of what they have invested are securing licenses through the express lane.
More Details on the Awarded Licence
This health department may be unable to sweep this matter under the rug with the large publicity it seems to be attracting.
Reports have it that the online application released stated June 28 as the deadline just five days after the application was uploaded on the health department's website. The notice was posted under the heading 'Medical Cannabis Licensed Non-Profit Producer application Instructions.'
The department failed to issue an official notice to inform interested applicants that applications could be submitted for consideration by the selection board.
Willie Ford, the managing director of Reybold Greenleaf & Associates criticized the health department and remarked that it was all a dirty affair in his opinion. The M.D of one of the respected consulting firms for the cannabis business in New Mexico further stated that it appeared that there was someone somewhere making it rain for somebody else.
More documents that have been acquired under a public records request show that GH LLC submitted a 731-page application on June 25, just two days after the application instructions were uploaded to the website.
The Albuquerque-based group filed for a nonprofit medical cannabis producer license. Two days after their application was received, on June 27, Dominick Zurlo and Billy Jimenez, the director of the medical cannabis program (MCP) and the deputy secretary of the department of health respectively, visited the GH LLC production site based in Albuquerque for inspection purposes. Less than twenty-four hours later, the legacy producer license was awarded to the GH LLC by the health department. The cannabis company also said a fee of $10,000 for this license.
The Health Department's Comment
New Mexico's Department of Health has responded to some of the questions it has been asked over the past weeks concerning the last-minute license.
Baylee Rawson, the department's appointed spokeswoman, answered in an email that the department has never failed to post announcements through its official website. She went on to say that the site is frequently visited by interested parties in the cannabis industry, from the medical cannabis license holders to the patients and other individuals involved in the industry's operations.
In the email, Rawson explained that the website is one of the preliminary pathways through which information and updates about the medical cannabis program are released. According to her, the website contains information like meeting announcements, educational materials, patient statistics as well as other important reports and documents.
Rawson also added that the department has been trying to open licenses for additional cannabis businesses for several months to make available various affordable medications for patients. She claims the department had a high workload and service demand during the narrow application window, which was why they had to work through the weekend.
It is not fair to the public!
Larry Love, a popular medical marijuana advocate who also hosts and orifices Santa-Fe's medical marijuana radio show said the whole affair wasn't fair to the public. He added that he's cordial with several individuals who would have wanted to submit applications for a license if the application process has been properly announced by the health department.
The whole travesty got more hurtful when the founder of GH LLC, Vance Dugger, commented in a brief interview that his company went through the right channels and tendered an application the same way everyone else did.
Like Duke Rodriguez rightly said, the GH LLC legacy license can be termed the 'Mack daddy of all New Mexican Cannabis License.'
While a lot is requesting for investigations, the majority remain hopeful that the new cannabis control division will follow due process when awarding cannabis business licenses.
There should not be room for favoritism in the medical cannabis program, neither should it be in the newly established recreational industry.