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Former state HSD chief now medical marijuana grower

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Duke Rodriguez, principal of Ultra Health LLC, first became involved in the medical cannabis industry around 2013 in Arizona.

He purchased the 11-acre marijuana-growing facility in Bernalillo in August 2014 on behalf of an Arizona corporation called Zoned Properties Inc., a real estate company that specializes in marijuana-growing facilities and dispensaries.

Zoned Properties paid $2.75 million for the 11.3-acre property, according to disclosures filed by the public company. Rodriguez owned a 13 percent stake in the company at the time.

At the time he bought the Bernalillo property, Rodriguez had no management agreements with a New Mexico licensed nonprofit producer, or LNPP. Under state law, a nonprofit must be licensed by the Department of Health to produce cannabis.

Eric Briones, founder of the Minerva Canna Group of Los Ranchos, said Rodriguez approached him and other LNPPs in New Mexico with offers to form a management partnership.

“He approached me,” Briones said. “He approached nearly everybody.” Briones said he declined the proposal.

Rodriguez acknowledged that he approached other New Mexico LNPPs before partnering with New Mexico Top Organics.

“I think we had initial conversations with every producer in the state,” Rodriguez said. “You do not want to run afoul of the state regs.”

Rodriguez also said he spoke with state Department of Health officials before he purchased the property. “We talked with local and state authorities before making the investment,” he said.

Rodriguez said he would not have bought it if he wasn’t confident that it would be properly zoned and certified as a growing facility.

“It was a condition of closing,” he said. “Nobody is going to spend several million dollars without having a certain confidence level that we would succeed.”

Ultra Health became the sole owner of the Bernalillo property as a result of a settlement reached in a lawsuit filed last year.

In March 2015, Zoned Properties filed suit in Arizona Superior Court against Rodriguez and Ultra Health in a dispute over business interests in Gilbert, Ariz., according to public records filed by the company.

In a settlement reached in July, Zoned Properties transferred ownership of the $2.7 million Bernalillo property to Rodriguez and Ultra Health, a company disclosure statement said.

Under the settlement, Rodriguez transferred ownership of a 48-acre property and growing facility in Chino Valley, Ariz., to Zoned Properties. Rodriguez also relinquished his ownership stake in Zoned Properties.

“We exchanged assets,” Rodriguez said of the settlement. “They went their direction and we went our direction.” Rodriguez today has no ownership in Chino Valley property, he said. “My primary interest was in the New Mexico market.”

Early ties to NM

Though based in Arizona today, Rodriguez has a long history in New Mexico and is no stranger to controversy.

The New Mexico State University graduate served as chief financial officer at Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1996, then-Gov. Gary Johnson appointed Rodriguez secretary of the state Human Services Department.

Rodriguez resigned the post in October 1997, three days after the Journal reported that a firm he formed had received nearly $30,000 in “sales commissions” from a company that did business with the HSD. The Journal reported that Healthcare Business Solutions Inc. of Albuquerque paid $29,822 earlier that year to Cumbre Investment, formed by Rodriguez in 1994.

Rodriguez responded Friday that any payments he received from Healthcare Business Solutions were made before he became HSD secretary for work performed before he took the state post.

Rodriguez said he was never investigated for wrongdoing for his actions as secretary.

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