WED: Horse Homeowners Say New Mexico Regulators Violated Civil Rights, + Extra

KUNM Morning Newscast with Nash Jones, June 30, 2021

Horse Owners Say New Mexico Regulators Violated Civil Rights – By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

An organization that represents thousands of racehorse owners and trainers is accusing New Mexico regulators of violating their civil rights.

The New Mexico Horsemen’s Association announced Tuesday that it is suing the state Racing Commission in federal court, saying it had no other recourse because the commission barred the group and its members from contacting any commissioners or attending its regular public meetings.

The commission limited communication after the horse owners sued in December to stop the panel from using purse money to cover operating costs at the state’s five privately owned racetracks.

The commission also voted this year to prohibit group members from contributing 1% of their purse winnings to the association and ending the contribution of starter fees that fund medical expenses as well as fees that go toward advocacy efforts. That prompted another legal challenge by the association in state district court.

Commission Chairman Sam Bregman said in a statement Tuesday that it was the horse owners group that was violating the law.

“The New Mexico Racing Commission has stopped the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association’s gravy train of redirecting the purses and the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association have now chosen to spend the horsemen’s money on legal fees,” Bregman said. “New Mexico horse racing will continue to prosper with or without the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association.”

Gary Mitchell, the association’s attorney, accused the commissioners — who are appointed by the governor — of deliberately trying to do away with the group by stopping members from contributing shares of their purse winnings to the association and changing how purse money is distributed and for what purposes.

“They wish to get their hands on this money and use it how they see fit — which is basically to pay the costs of running the racetrack,” Mitchell said, noting that would allow more money to go into the tracks’ associated casinos.

Groups Sue Biden Admin Over Planned Expansion Of Nuke Work – By Michelle Liu, Associated Press/Report For America

Watchdog groups sued the Biden administration Tuesday over its plans to produce plutonium cores for the U.S. nuclear stockpile, arguing federal agencies have failed to conduct a detailed environmental review of potential impacts around installations in New Mexico and South Carolina.

A lawsuit filed against the Energy Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration calls on the federal agency that oversees U.S. nuclear research and bombmaking to take a legally required “hard look” at impacts on local communities and possible alternatives before expanding manufacturing of the plutonium cores used to trigger nuclear weapons.

The suit comes as U.S. officials have doubled down on a push to modernize  the country’s nuclear arsenal and the science and technology that accompany it, citing global security concerns. The nuclear agency has said most of the plutonium cores currently in the stockpile date back to the 1970s and 1980s.

Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico and the Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina face deadlines to produce a set number of plutonium cores in coming years.

On Monday, the National Nuclear Security Administration gave key approval to the production project at the Savannah River Site. Yearly production of 50 or more cores at the South Carolina location is now estimated to cost between $6.9 billion to $11.1 billion, with a completion date ranging from 2032 to 2035.

The watchdog groups  said Tuesday that the agency took a piecemeal approach to decide on locating the production at Los Alamos and the Savannah River Site, where nearby communities are already underrepresented and underserved.

“The environmental risk of there being an accident at either location causing the release of radioactive materials is real, and it would have significant consequences to the surrounding environment and communities,” said Leslie Lenhardt, an attorney with the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, which is representing the groups.

A spokesperson for the nuclear agency declined to comment, citing policy on pending litigation.

The efforts to bolster the nuclear arsenal have spanned multiple presidential administrations, with the Biden administration reviewing modernization efforts begun during the Obama years that continued under Donald Trump’s presidency.

Critics of the plan are worried about lagging deadlines and bloated budgets on top of security concerns and the risks of nuclear waste and contamination. Some have argued the U.S. doesn’t need the new plutonium cores.

Tom Clements of Savannah River Site Watch said the South Carolina location was picked for political reasons following the failure of a facility designed to convert weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear fuel. As the Savannah River Site has never served as a storage or production site for the pits in its history, establishing pit construction there would be “a daunting technical challenge that has not been properly reviewed,” Clements said.

Beginning in the 1950s, plutonium pits were produced at the Rocky Flats facility in Colorado, which had a long history of leaks, fires and environmental violations that needed a $7 billion, yearslong cleanup. That has left critics concerned about similar problems arising if new plutonium warhead factories are established in New Mexico and South Carolina.

Production moved in the 1990s to Los Alamos, where production over the years has been sporadic, plagued by safety problems and concerns about a lack of accountability.

Recreational Marijuana Legal To Possess, Grow In New Mexico – By Morgan Lee And Cedar Attanasio Associated Press

It’s legal for people in New Mexico to possess recreational marijuana and grow those plants at home as of Tuesday, the same day regulators opened discussions on rules for the launch of pot sales next year.

The milestone was celebrated by cannabis consumers and advocates for criminal justice reform who say poor and minority communities have been prosecuted disproportionately for using marijuana. Now, the scent of marijuana no longer is an adequate cause for searching vehicles and property in New Mexico.

Recreational marijuana is now legal in 16 states and Washington, D.C., with Connecticut and Virginia set to join the list Thursday. 

New Mexico joins a wave of states that have broadly legalized pot through the legislative process rather than by voter-approved ballot initiative. That has allowed for innovations such as marijuana “microbusiness” licenses that will allow up to 200 pot plants at seed-to-sales cannabis operations.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham heralded the day as “a huge step forward both for social justice and economic development in our state.”

After legalization efforts repeatedly faltered in the Democratic-led Legislature, Lujan Grisham called a special legislative session in March to tackle cannabis reforms and signed the law in April.

“We are proactively stopping the disproportionate criminalization of people of color for cannabis possession, and we are building a new industry,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release.

The new law allows people 21 and over to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants at home, or a total of 12 per household.

Regulators held an all-day public hearing to vet proposed rules for cannabis businesses to determine future licensing fees, quality controls, audit requirements and the extent of criminal background checks for producers.

The rules they are considering would allow more marijuana crops per business — nearly three times the 1,750-plant limit for medical cannabis growers. Enrollment in the medical marijuana program has surged past 100,000 people in a state of 2.1 million residents.

Medical users at the Minerva cannabis dispensary in Santa Fe welcomed the changes that took effect Tuesday — including the elimination of taxes on personal supplies of medical cannabis.

Aurore Bleck of Santa Fe, a 70-year-old retired administrator, uses marijuana to treat nerve pain associated with her multiple sclerosis. She says the changes are likely to ease the financial strain of buying cannabis.

“I’m on a budget,” Bleck said. “It’s gonna help me because I can have six plants instead of four. In the past, I’ve grown a lot.”

Recreational marijuana sales are planned to start by April 1, 2022 and will include a 12% excise tax in addition to sales taxes ranging from about 5% to 9%. 

The governor and lawmakers are eager to foster a new source of revenue that can help wean a heavy dependence on the state’s oil industry.

Medical stores can’t sell recreational cannabis yet but are looking to expand showrooms for non-medical users.

John Mondragon, 56, of Santa Fe, ordered a cannabis-infused lemonade that helps relieve his post-traumatic stress.

“I’m happy that they passed it,” he said of the law legalizing recreational marijuana. “There’s so many people out here with unrecognized anxiety. As they use it, it will help.”

At Tuesday’s regulatory hearing, officials with the state’s newly founded Cannabis Control Division listened to stark warnings about overuse of agricultural water supplies and the dangers of overregulation.

“A lot of these regulations will only perpetuate the illicit market,” said Kristina Caffrey, chief legal officer for Ultra Health, a leading producer and distributor of medical cannabis. “Do they allow legal entrance to effectively compete?”


This story has been corrected to show that people in New Mexico can grow recreational marijuana at home immediately, not that it begins in April 2022.

Man Sentenced To 30 Years For Killing Navajo Police Officer – By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A man who shot and killed a tribal police officer in a remote corner of the nation’s largest American Indian reservation has been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.

Kirby Cleveland, 37, was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court for gunning down Navajo Nation Officer Houston James Largo four years ago. Cleveland’s attorneys had sought several delays over the last year because of the coronavirus pandemic and to gather evidence and find witnesses to testify on his mental condition in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence.

In 2019, Cleveland pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, which carried a maximum penalty of life in prison. He also pleaded guilty to violating the conditions of his supervised release in a previous case in which he forced his way into a home on the Navajo Nation armed with a baseball bat and assaulted a woman in 2012.

Largo was shot March 11, 2017, on a dark road in western New Mexico while responding to a domestic violence call.

Cleveland acknowledged that he consumed alcohol that night and shot and killed Largo with a rifle. He told the court he had been attacked by a group of bandits armed with bats days earlier and fired at the officer believing he was another assailant.

A woman from the rural community saw flashing police lights that night and found Largo lying along the road, face down and bleeding. She used the radio in Largo’s patrol vehicle to call for help.

Cleveland was found hiding in the hills more than a mile away, and the 27-year-old decorated police officer died the next day at an Albuquerque hospital.

The case highlighted the dangers faced nationwide by tribal police officers who often must patrol vast jurisdictions alone. It also led Navajo leaders and community members to discuss the scourge of alcohol and the constant reports of domestic violence on the reservation, which spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Before the shooting, Cleveland’s wife had called authorities saying he had been drinking and became angry as she and her children watched television, according to a criminal complaint. She drove him to a friend’s house.

Largo arrived as a friend was driving Cleveland back home. The officer stopped the vehicle, and shots rang out soon after. The complaint said Cleveland walked home with his .22-caliber rifle and told his wife: “I shot that police officer, you need to go help him.”

Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that Cleveland’s sentence also includes four years of supervision after he is released from prison.

Navajo Nation: 3 COVID Cases, No Deaths For 3rd Day In Row – Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Tuesday reported three new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths for the third consecutive day.

Tribal health officials said the sprawling reservation that stretches into New Mexico, Arizona and Utah now has seen 30,993 cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

The known death toll remains at 1,352.

Health officials said last week that the first case of the Delta variant has been identified on the reservation.

The variant has become prevalent in the U.S. over the past few weeks and has been detected in many states, including the Four Corners states.

“The first confirmed case of the Delta variant was identified in the northern part of the Navajo Nation,” tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement Tuesday. “If we continue to get vaccinated and to wear masks in public, we will have a greater chance of minimizing the impact of the Delta variant.”

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