© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES    6/10/19
Medical cannabis program expands qualifying conditions with more changes to come
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
            When it comes to pain, there are two schools of thought: Suck it up or seek relief.
            The second school, seeking relief, is one driver in opioid addiction. Medical cannabis offers an avenue to both pain and opioid addiction.
            Last week, when the state Department of Health added opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions to receive medical cannabis, it was less a sudden stroke of enlightenment and more a response to public outcry and building pressure that found its voice in a legislative task force.
            Expect more big changes.
            In 2018, the Legislature created a task force to look into issues of supply and demand in the medical cannabis program and make recommendations. The task force found that the state’s artificial limits on all aspects of the program denied relief to some patients, increased costs, and depressed supply.
            In October the task force recommended reducing the cost burden on patients by making medical cannabis tax exempt like prescription drugs, creating a discount program for low-income patients, eliminating required annual renewals of licenses, adding opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions, providing civil protections to patients, ensuring access in rural areas, allowing patients to grow and consume their own medical cannabis and give it to other patients, and allowing personal cultivation at alternative locations (important to members of tribes and pueblos who can’t grow marijuana legally on the reservation).
          The task force also wanted to give medical providers the authority to refer patients to the program for serious medical conditions other than those on the list.
           “There have been 700 medical conditions that have been studied and found to be effectively treated with cannabis,” testified Dr. Celeste Madrid Taylor, of Las Cruces. “There are currently only 22 qualifying conditions allowed in New Mexico… I should be able to use my clinical knowledge and expertise to certify patients for medical cannabis use for any serious condition that I deem appropriate.”
            The task force report showed that the Department of Health, under former Gov. Susana Martinez, was governed by political mindset rather than medical opinion. Former Secretary Lynn Gallagher repeatedly rejected recommendations from the state Medical Cannabis Board, created in 2007 by the enabling legislation.
          Over the previous eight years, the board recommended the very expansions that DOH just approved. The board twice recommended adding opioid use disorder; Gallagher denied the recommendations. In 2017 lawmakers tried to accomplish it by legislation, which passed with bipartisan support and was vetoed. Medical cannabis is used to relieve autism symptoms in 11 states, dementia in 10 states. The board tried three times with dementia.
            With the election of a governor who pledged on the campaign trail to expand the list of qualifying conditions, it’s a new day, as supporters often promised.
            Last week, DOH finally accepted the board’s recommendation and added opioid use disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disorder and three degenerative neurological disorders (Friedreich’s ataxia, Lewy body disease, and spinal muscular atrophy).
          Gallagher’s DOH was also depressing supply by limiting the number of production licenses and the number of plants producers were allowed to grow. The department opened the application process for producers just once in the last eight years, even though patient enrollment had increased monthly from the outset. Currently, there are 35 producers, mostly in Albuquerque. Many rural communities lack access.
          The expanded list of qualifying conditions signals that DOH Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel intends to modernize the department’s rules.
          The massive medical cannabis reform bill passed this year takes effect in July. Among other things, it will be easier for patients to qualify for the program, they can recertify every three years instead of yearly, and the list of qualifying conditions will be longer.
            That breeze you feel is a sigh of relief from people with chronic conditions.

 © 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES      6/3/19
New Mexico could take the biggest hit with threatened tariffs
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
          New Mexico could be the biggest loser in the president’s tariff trade war with the state’s two biggest trade partners, China and Mexico, according to Forbes magazine.
          That’s because even though our numbers aren’t large compared with states like Texas, our percentages are. New Mexico not only exports a higher percentage of goods to Mexico and China than any other state, it’s the only state that sends more than 30 percent of its exports to the two nations, says Forbes, based on U.S. Census Bureau data through March.
            If the tweeter in chief follows through on a threat to place a 5 percent tariff on all U. S. imports from Mexico, which ratchets up to 25 percent unless Mexico halts the flow of Central American asylum seekers, “it could spell a world of hurt” in New Mexico, said Forbes.
            Jerry Pacheco, CEO of the Border Industrial Association, told the Albuquerque Journal it was like threatening Mexico while pointing the gun at your own foot. Santa Teresa, on the southern border, generates nearly half the state’s exports. It’s also the state’s busiest border crossing. And during the recession and its long hangover in the state, Santa Teresa was the ONLY source of positive economic news.
            So when the governor said the “tariffs have the potential to be economically catastrophic,” she was not exaggerating. “Our state sends almost $1.5 billion in exports to Mexico each year; a trade war would devastate businesses all across New Mexico, in rural and urban communities alike.”
            On tables of imports and exports, all the big numbers are at the top with our largest and second largest customers, Mexico and China. After that the numbers fall dramatically, so that if the president picks a trade fight with, say, France or Belgium, we would only feel a twinge.
            As an exporter, New Mexico is 26th nationally, but 38.84 percent went to Mexico and 30.23 percent went to China. Our imports look similar – 30.6 percent from Mexico, 25.7 percent from China, and 12.2 percent from Canada. (Exports to Mexico from Arizona were 39.5 percent and for Texas, 35 percent.)
            What are we exporting? Much of it is high tech components and systems from many companies, not just Intel, along with medical instruments, fertilizers, civilian aircraft parts, pecans, copper, cheese, and whey, among other items.
            Businesses along the border are interdependent. One supplies parts and materials for the production lines of the other. What affects one affects the other. For example, ACME Mills in Santa Teresa distributes textiles used in upholstery for cars made in Mexico.
            Jon Barela, CEO of the El Paso-based Borderplex Alliance and the state’s former Economic Development Secretary, said in a statement that "Trump's misguided plan to impose tariffs on goods from Mexico is a consumer tax on Americans that will lead to job losses in the Borderplex region and throughout America." The proposed tariffs “will not solve the migrant crisis, and in fact, Mexico, before this action… was already taking firm steps to secure its own southern border in a meaningful and productive manner.”
            This is the latest upset among many for Pacheco, whose job is to help Santa Teresa and the border region develop and who, as a former developer, has skin in the game.
            First came the fall of the peso after the elections of 2016 because of uncertainty about trade policies. Then the president didn’t like the North American Free Trade Agreement and pushed for a replacement, but Santa Teresa’s success was built on NAFTA and the cross-border cooperation it engendered. Now he threatens to scuttle the painstakingly negotiated new agreement with tariff talk.
            Pacheco sees us as “cannon fodder” for the president’s trade wars. Nobody will win.

Sherry Robinson photo

© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES     6-10-19
Mass shootings becoming business as usual
By Merilee Dannemann
Triple Spaced Again
There’s a new standard of heroism in America. The hero is the one who jumps in front of the shooter, saving lives while sacrificing his own. It happened twice in recent weeks.
This is a new subject for frank talks between parents and teenagers. You may be the mom or dad who pleads with your teenager not to be a hero.
John Castillo, father of 18-year-old dead hero Kendrick Castillo, had that talk with his son. Kendrick did the opposite, jumped in front of the shooter, and was killed in the attack on a high school south of Denver on May 7.
College student Riley Howell was killed while tackling the shooter at the University of North Carolina on April 30.
On May 17, in Portland, Ore., the hero was a coach, Keanon Lowe. He tackled the gunman before shooting started. He and everyone else at the school, including the gunman, lived to tell about it.
The hero phenomenon is an escalation of the school shooting phenomenon. In one incident last year, a 29-year-old teacher was the hero, disarming a 13-year-old student. The teacher was injured; no one was killed.
During the Aztec High School incident in December 2017, several staff members took quick action and helped save lives, but nobody jumped in front of the gunman.
Training and preparing for active shooter incidents has become an industry. In New Mexico, our Public Schools Insurance Authority has hired a consulting firm to train personnel. I recently attended a presentation on preventing and responding to active shooters, for both workplaces and schools.
I found especially troubling the reminder, now commonly repeated, to be suspicious, in our workplaces and classrooms, of individuals who behave oddly. Watch out not only for the bully but for the one who is bullied and silently smolders with resentment. It makes perfect sense, but is hardly the way I’d like to view my fellow human beings.
In active shooter situations, the presenter said, it’s better to run than hide. That’s because it’s hard to hit a moving target. Statistically, you are likely to survive if hit. If you have to hide, barricade the door of the room and hide in a “hard corner,” one that cannot be seen if the shooter breaks the glass in the door. Hiding under a school desk is almost useless.
But stopping that troubled individual from getting that gun is still something we can’t agree on.
The 2019 New Mexico legislature passed a law (SB 8) requiring background checks for gun purchases and another law (SB 328) prohibiting domestic abusers and persons convicted of domestic violence-related crimes from possessing firearms.
The sheriffs of 26 of New Mexico’s 33 counties have declared they won’t enforce these laws. County commissions have supported these declarations, declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuary” counties. That includes San Juan County, where Aztec is located.
Kendrick Castillo and Riley Howell, the heroes, have been deservedly celebrated in their own communities. They will probably get school buildings or parks named after them. Perhaps Aztec will do something similar for the two dead students, Casey Jordan Marquez and Francisco Fernandez. Ask their parents whether they’d rather have a monument or a live child.
The Internet has created insidious new ways for children to feel isolated and left out. The ubiquity of news coverage provides models of how to use violence to express rage. And our gun culture continues to give ready access to weapons to anybody who wants them. “Harden” the school buildings and the shooters will use a bus stop or the football field.
And now Virginia Beach, 12 dead. Business as usual.
In America, we would rather keep our guns and risk losing our children. So this is not going to change. Get used to it.
Contact Merilee Dannemann through www.triplespacedagain.com.

 © 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES        6-3-19
Before changing national monuments to parks, do deferred maintenance
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
Turning Bandelier and White Sands national monuments into national parks isn’t just a feel-good deal. There are questions to ask, especially in light of the crowds overwhelming parks such as Zion in Utah, which I discussed in the previous column.
The proposals come from Sen. Martin Heinrich.
Bandelier is near Los Alamos and White Sands is southwest of Alamogordo and within the much larger White Sands Missile Range. Bandelier is about cliff dwellings; White Sands is a giant box of white sand.
More people have come to both monuments the past few years, though both remain well below the record visitor numbers of decades back. For White Sands, the visitor record was 666,879 in 1986. The visitor count was 603,008 in 2018, up from 490,506 in 2013.
For Bandelier, 2001 was the most recent year with more than 300,000 visitors when 313,850 came. In 2018, it was 198,441. The record was 430,138 in 1994.
If parks and monuments are all about attracting visitors, Bandelier and White Sands are simply not in the game. Zion attracted 4.5 million in 2017 and 6.3 million came to the Grand Canyon.
Like the parks with many more people, Bandelier and White Sands have deferred maintenance. The dollar figures are modest compared to the big guys, but are hardly trivial. The maintenance deferred at Bandelier is $14.6 million, with $3.1 million deferred at White Sands. Deferred maintenance at Carlsbad Caverns is almost $40 million.
For questions, start with these: Do national parks emphasize different things from monuments? What is the maintenance that has been deferred?
Similar sounding studies from Headwater Economics in Montana tout the wonders of turning the monuments into parks. Actually the benefits aren’t that great. Bandelier anticipates perhaps 35 new jobs and additional spending of $2.5 million. Bandelier is in Los Alamos County, which had 2.9 percent unemployment in April, which means full employment with about 9,000 jobs. 
In Otero County, home to White Sands, employment is about 24,000 with an April unemployment rate of 4.3 percent. Turning White Sands into a national park might mean 100 new jobs, nice but hardly significant.
Another question: what will be the work done by the people holding these jobs?
One highlight of the Bandelier experience is climbing a traditional wooden ladder to get a better look at dwellings cut into the side of the cliff. Has the risk of many more people been analyzed? Hazards? Damage to dwellings?
White Sands has what is called the “Roadrunner Picnic Area” with about a dozen “picnic pavilions” with grills and plenty of room for cars. The sand bordering this area is perhaps ten feet high.
For this column, monument staff reviewed the picnic area history. Apparently it has always been roughly in the current location, dating to the 1930s. The staff says such attractions are built between dunes to minimize disturbance. Today, maybe, but were people that pure in the 1930s? This area appears excavated to me. The steep dunes look as if they had help from bulldozers. Staff assures me I’m wrong.
The main thing to remember about White Sands, whether park or monument, is that it gets really hot and people die—a French couple in 2015 and a man in 2018 on the same trail.
If White Sands becomes a park, what happens to the Roadrunner Picnic area? Expansion? More generally, what is the point of White Sands? Conservation? Playland?
White Sands does have a continuing cultural legacy; “Tank Girl,” one of the worst movies ever, was partly filmed there in 1994.
Sen. Heinrich should have the Park Service fix the deferred stuff and only then consider status changes.

Columns appear here a week after they're sent to newspaper subscribers.