A freshman state senator who was at the forefront of New Mexico’s legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana is poised to profit financially from the new industry.
Sen. Katy Duhigg, an Albuquerque Democrat who is an attorney by profession, has partnered with a former Bernalillo County prosecutor to form a full-service cannabis law firm.
Duhigg, who played a key role in crafting the Cannabis Regulation Act as one of its sponsors, said she didn’t disclose she would be working in the industry when the Legislature considered the bill during a special legislative session earlier this year because it was only within the last month that she decided to get into the business.
“People are rightly asking, ‘Why wasn’t this disclosed?’ ” Duhigg said in a telephone interview Monday.
“Had this been something I was planning on doing, I should have and would have made that disclosure,” she said. “But it didn’t exist then and, honestly, it didn’t even occur to me.”
Duhigg’s foray into recreational cannabis is the latest example of lawmakers passing legislation that has an impact on their professional work, such as teachers voting on education bills or doctors on medical malpractice legislation.
“The fix to that is to professionalize our Legislature, as every other state has done,” Duhigg said.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who works as an attorney and represents medical cannabis producers and patients, said he didn’t begrudge Duhigg.
“There’s no legal problem I see with setting up the firm,” he said. “The problem I see, though, is how the Governor’s Office and [the state Department of Health] so politicized my involvement in the industry but are just silent when it comes to [Albuquerque City Councilor Pat] Davis and to Sen. Duhigg.
“I find it interesting that one standard seems to be applied to me as a queer Hispanic legislator but a different standard seems to be applied to white lawmakers,” Candelaria added.
After the legalization bill passed, Davis, who was appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to serve as chair of her 2019 cannabis legalization working group, started a cannabis consulting company along with Matt Kennicott and Patricia Mattioli. Kennicott served as policy and planning director under former Gov. Susana Martinez, and Mattioli has worked in New Mexico’s political and construction sector for more than a decade, according to their consulting company’s website.
In response to Candelaria’s comment, Davis said: “I think Jacob would be better focused on his own issues with the Ethics Commission.”
Candelaria, who has been highly critical of the governor, claims New Mexico Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins lodged an ethics complaint against him in retaliation for requesting records related to the state’s response to COVID-19 and the spending of federal funds. The complaint, which accused Candelaria of violating the law by voting on legislation that would affect one of his clients, was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds.
Last month, Candelaria filed a tort claims notice, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, against Collins, claiming the complaint was without merit and defamatory.
Davis, a former police officer who also heads an Albuquerque online news outlet, said he and his partners teamed up to help licensees prepare for the legalization of recreational marijuana.
“We started by talking to the ethics attorneys ahead of time to be sure we’re doing it right, and our business focuses exclusively on how a business operates sort of inside the four walls,” he said. He added the company, P2M Cannabis Group, doesn’t deal with zoning, real estate or business licenses in Albuquerque or anywhere else.
“We only deal with their operating policies and helping them prepare their applications at the state level, and that’s no conflict with the city,” he said, adding he would recuse himself “out of an abundance of caution” should any of his clients challenge city zoning, though he doesn’t anticipate such issues to arise.
Duhigg said she also obtained an “independent ethics opinion” from another attorney in Albuquerque before starting the firm.
“I was pretty sure that I was within both the letter and the spirit of the law,” she said. “But I wanted to make double sure because it is a reasonable question to ask having been involved in that bill [whether] is it appropriate for me to be in this area.”
Duhigg said she “might even ask” for an opinion from the state Ethics Commission.
The independent ethics opinion Duhigg already obtained was consistent with an opinion issued by an interim ethics committee a few years ago, she said.
“I had no direct financial interest in the bill when it was being passed,” she said. “And as long as I’m not selling my services as a state senator — now, if I’m out there marketing myself as a senator for people to hire me, that is a big problem, and that would be inappropriate.”
Duhigg, who is marketing herself as a private attorney, said she’s going to great lengths with all her clients to make sure they understand the difference between her role as a lawyer and her role in the Legislature “to the point that when they call me ‘Senator,’ I ask them not to.”
“I want to make real clear, and I want them to understand that … they are not buying, they’re not hiring me as a senator, I’m not going to pursue legislation on their behalf, I’m not going to vote based on their needs, that that is a completely separate role from my role as an attorney,” she said.
Duhigg, who announced her new law firm on Facebook last week, said she didn’t inform Democratic leaders in the state Senate ahead of time “but I know that they know now.”
“I get the concern, and I think it’s reasonable to ask the question, but I think that everything that I’ve done has been appropriate and within the legal framework that we have here in New Mexico for a citizen Legislature,” she said. “I’m excited to be able to help folks get into this industry. It is going to be a big new industry in New Mexico, and people do need legal help getting in there.”