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State questions hip-hop video shot in medical marijuana greenhouse

An ode to Albuquerque on YouTube shows hip-hop artists jamming among lush marijuana plants taller than they are.

The catchy four-minute hip-hop music video credited to Albuquerque native Versatile Verse has more than 3,567 views – including views by officials with the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program who want one of the state’s licensed pot growers to explain “What’s up?”

The plants on the video appear to be housed inside a Bernalillo greenhouse owned by New Mexico Top Organics – Ultra Health, one of 35 licensed producers in the state.

And that has raised security questions from the state about how the crew of hip-hop artists was allowed to film, dance and sing with hundreds of supposedly highly secured marijuana plants as a backdrop.

A Sept. 1 letter from Ken Groggel, manager of the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, asked Ultra Health to explain how the group got access to the production facility and how the video benefits qualified patients and the program.

“What is the intended purpose of the video?” Groggel asked in a letter Ultra Health later posted on Instagram. “Who is the intended audience?”

Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of Ultra Health LLC, said it isn’t the first time the company has done a video production in the greenhouse.

“It’s kind of funny,” he said. “It’s kind of like the Department of Health is expressing a dislike for music, or maybe that type of music.”

Rodriguez said the video was “an artistic expression by young people who were managed and supervised (by licensed Ultra Health employees). Nothing in fact happened bad. None of them touched the medicine.”

Rapper Versatile Verse, an Albuquerque native, stars in a music video filmed inside one of the state's 35 licensed medical marijuana production facilities in Bernalillo. He and his crew wore gloves to ensure that the plants remained sanitary. (Courtesy of Versatile Verse)

Rapper Versatile Verse, an Albuquerque native, stars in a music video filmed inside one of the state’s 35 licensed medical marijuana production facilities in Bernalillo. He and his crew wore gloves to ensure that the plants remained sanitary. (Courtesy of Versatile Verse)

The musicians donned blue plastic gloves as a precaution.

“There was never any risk to the plant or to the (medical cannabis) patient,” Rodriguez said in a telephone interview.

The production facility’s $200,000 security system has 24/7 cameras that added another layer of supervision, he added.

The Department of Health gave Ultra Health until Sept. 16 to respond to its questions.

So far, there’s been no reply, said David Morgan, DOH spokesman. “We are awaiting their response before determining the next steps.”

Rodriguez’s firm sued the DOH in August, challenging the current limit on marijuana plants – 450 per producer.

“I think the state DOH is looking for a reason, in light of our lawsuit, to find fault in what we’re doing at Ultra Health,” said Rodriguez, who headed the New Mexico Human Services Department 20 years ago.

It was unclear last week whether producing music videos in a medical marijuana greenhouse violates New Mexico law.

State regulations require criminal history screening of employees and managers at the production facility. Each of the state producers must also have a general written security policy that addresses personal safety and crime prevention techniques.

But access to production facilities by the general public doesn’t appear to be addressed by the regulations.

The music video, which also features an artist known as Luigi The Singer, doesn’t mention medical marijuana, although a wide shot of the greenhouse facility bearing the Ultra Health logo does appear.

“I’m from New Mexico where the chile is green, and the city is cold. I don’t ever want to let it go. It’s in my soul,” the musician raps, who later warns to keep an “eye out for the cops.”

“It was amazing,” Verse said of the four hours producing the video in the greenhouse. “It was, metaphorically speaking, like New Mexico … this is new medicine.” Verse now lives in Las Vegas, Nev.

Rodriguez said the musical crew wasn’t charged for use of the facilities.

“They weren’t advocating the illegal use of cannabis, or trying to get young people to try it,” he said.

The marijuana plants, some mature and in their flower state, simply “provided a little drama to their music and their energy,” Rodriguez said.

“I chuckled the first time I heard it,” he added. “They’re not going to like me saying this, but I think it’s sentimental and kind of sweet.”

The state’s medical cannabis program has expanded dramatically since its creation in 2007. Just over the past year, the number of people enrolled has nearly doubled, from 14,000 to 26,568 as of June.

Most of those patients have been diagnosed with either post-traumatic stress order or severe chronic pain, which are among the nearly two dozen qualifying conditions for which medical marijuana is approved.

According to new DOH data, producers reported that the average price per gram of cannabis was $8.48, with a high price of $33.40 reported. Total producer receipts in the second quarter were $11.6 million.

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