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Pot-showing company hit with sanctions

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

When a three-week-old medical marijuana seedling named Dorothy made her public debut at the New Mexico State Fair in September, state officials scrambled to pull the plug on her appearance.

 This female marijuana plant was ordered removed from a medical cannabis vendor's booth at the State Fair in Albuquerque on Sept. 8. (Courtesy Of Ultra Health)

This female marijuana plant was ordered removed from a medical cannabis vendor’s booth at the State Fair in Albuquerque on Sept. 8. (Courtesy Of Ultra Health)

Now the New Mexico medical cannabis company that sponsored Dorothy’s field trip is facing state sanctions that could cost the company more than $100,000, said Duke Rodriguez, owner and CEO of Ultra Health LLC, one of the state’s 35 licensed medical cannabis producers.

“With this kind of damage to our reputation, to our patients, and to our ongoing business, we certainly are going to defend this,” Rodriguez told the Journal on Friday. A hearing on the appeal on the matter is set for Nov. 30 in Santa Fe.

The seedling was slated for a 10-day stint at a booth Ultra Health rented at the fair, but the plant was ejected on opening day, Sept. 8, after New Mexico State Police and fair officials were notified.

Rodriguez told the Journal the seedling was “displayed wholly for educational purposes.”

But health department officials informed Ultra Health that removing the medical marijuana plant from the company’s Bernalillo production facility to the State Fair violated state law that requires cannabis production facilities “be housed on secured grounds.”

“The removal of a cannabis plant to an off-site location constituted both a change of location for the nonprofit producer’s production and a substantial change to the entity’s production plan,” states a Sept. 16 letter to Ultra Health from state medical cannabis program director Kenny Vigil.

The penalty imposed is suspension of “all sales and distribution” by the company for five days, and a $100 fine, according to the letter.

Rodriguez told the Journal the sanction is an overreaction.

“Never did we say we were intending to produce, cultivate or distribute cannabis for the state fairgrounds,” he said.

As for the security concerns, Rodriguez told the Journal, “The plant was under the control and administration of our licensed personnel the entire time and the maximum amount of time that the plant stayed on that campus was less than nine hours,” Rodriguez said. He said the seedling wasn’t flowering and had only trace levels of THC, a mind-altering ingredient in marijuana.

“If they would simply have left it at a $100 fine we might be open to a settlement of such a minor fine, but what they have proposed is a sanction greater in value than $100,000,” Rodriguez said. “The $100,000 is just the immediate cash impact. The long-term damage to the program and the patients is even greater.”

New Mexico has authorized more than 30,000 cardholders to legally use pot for any one of more than 20 medical conditions.

“For example, in Hobbs, we are 95 percent of the market,” Rodriguez said. “Those patients will have no alternative other than going back to the black market to secure their medicine, which is the absolute wrong message to patients or for the program.”

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