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Egolf won’t vote on medical pot bill

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Duke Rodriguez, left, president of Ultra Health LLC, and his attorney, Brian Egolf, who is also House speaker, leave a Santa Fe courtroom in December after a court decision. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — House Speaker Brian Egolf notified legislators Friday that he will excuse himself from any consideration of a medical-marijuana bill that touches on his work as a private attorney.

The proposal, Senate Bill 139, is pending in the Senate and may not make it over to the House.

But if it does, Egolf said in a formal message to his colleagues, he will ask other lawmakers to determine any committee assignments for the bill and when it should be debated on the floor, if necessary.

He said he would not preside over the chamber during the debate or cast a vote.

Egolf’s decision centers on legislation that would bar out-of-state residents from obtaining the patient ID cards necessary to participate in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program.

As a private attorney, Egolf is the lead counsel in a case centering on how to define a qualified patient for the state’s medical marijuana program.

The speaker is representing plaintiffs — including Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of the medical cannabis producer Ultra Health LLC — who say they are entitled to patient ID cards even though they live outside New Mexico.

Senate Bill 139 would revise the law to make it clear that only New Mexico residents can enroll.

“Because one could reasonably conclude that any action I may take regarding Senate Bill 139 could have been taken to affect the currently pending appeal and the underlying case,” Egolf wrote, “I have decided to entirely recuse myself from the legislative process related to” the bill.

As speaker of the House, Egolf, D-Santa Fe, is perhaps the most powerful legislator in New Mexico. He presides over debates in the House, determines when bills come up for a vote and assigns legislation to committees.

In his message, Egolf said he had asked Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, to meet with the Republican and Democratic floor leaders in the House to ask them to “jointly determine” the bill’s committee assignments. The floor leaders would also work together — in consultation with Rep. Daymon Ely, a Corrales Democrat who would serve as speaker pro tem — to schedule the House debate if it makes it that far.

Senate Bill 139, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, has passed two Senate committees — by votes of 6-1 and 8-3 — and is awaiting action by the full Senate. If approved there, it would be sent to the House.

As of last month, a total of 613 out-of-state residents had enrolled in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program. They enrolled after a state judge ruled in August that a wording change in a bill passed last year had opened the door for non-New Mexicans to get ID cards if they meet qualifying criteria.

The state Department of Health is currently appealing that ruling.

Journal Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this report.

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