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NM settles cannabis suit for $69K

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Expo New Mexico officials agreed to pay $69,600 to a prominent medical cannabis producer to resolve a 2017 lawsuit over what type of products could be displayed at a State Fair booth, under a settlement that was completed last summer.

The settlement between Ultra Health LLC and Expo New Mexico was recently posted on a public database by the General Services Department upon the completion of a six-month period that’s established under New Mexico law.

In the settlement, Expo New Mexico officials agreed to drop their appeal that had been pending in the 10th U.S. Circuit of Appeals. The state also agreed to make the $69,600 payment to avoid further legal expenses.

The legal dispute arose when Expo New Mexico placed restrictions on what items Ultra Health could display in its State Fair booth in 2017, telling the medical cannabis producer it could not display marijuana or any paraphernalia related to cannabis use or cultivation.

That came after State Police officers had, a year earlier, told Ultra Health employees to pack up and leave the State Fair because they had displayed a live cannabis plant.

Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of Ultra Health, said the company’s lawsuit was aimed at preserving its free speech rights to both display cannabis and advocate for its use.

“Our actual expenses were higher, but the agreed settlement amount represents a reasonable settlement with the state of New Mexico and hopefully extends an olive branch to the administration as to our willingness to resolve these matters in a timely and equitable manner,” Rodriguez told the Journal. “We were willing to compromise on the dollars and cents of the litigation, but we did not compromise on the principle at stake.”

Although the State Fair aims to promote a family-friendly event, a federal judge had sided with Ultra Health in an initial ruling last year that found Expo New Mexico officials had violated the medical cannabis producer’s First Amendment rights.

But Oona Garcia, an Expo New Mexico spokeswoman, said Friday that the judge’s ruling was helpful because it set guidelines for what medical cannabis vendors can display at the State Fair.

Several medical cannabis producers participated in last year’s State Fair, in September, Garcia said.

She also said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration had pushed for a settlement to resolve the litigation.

Ultra Health, which runs more than a dozen medical cannabis dispensaries across New Mexico, has also filed other lawsuits against the state in recent years, including one dealing with whether non-New Mexicans can get a state medical marijuana identification card.

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