ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – After spending less than a year developing and executing the state’s cannabis rules, New Mexico’s former Cannabis Control Division director is taking her talents to a private cannabis firm. A powerhouse consultant agency, “Weeds” has hired Kristen Thomson, leading some to debate about the ethics of the move.
Thomson was appointed to be the state’s first Cannabis Control Division director in the fall of 2021. But just two months ago, in June, Thomson suddenly resigned from the top position.
Weeds made the announcement on Monday, saying Thomson is joining the firm as a partner and chief strategy officer. She is not the only former regulator on their team, according to Weeds’ co-founder, Pat Davis, who’s also an Albuquerque City Councilor and newspaper owner.
“We’ve added some very talented and knowledgeable people to our roster to help strengthen and expand our service offerings,” Davis said in a press release. “Adding two former state regulators to our team will bring a depth of knowledge that no other firm possesses.”
That other former regulator is Bobbi Martinez. She’s the former compliance manager for the CCD and will reportedly do similar work for Weeds.
Filling the space Thomson vacated at the CCD, Carolina Barrera has stepped in as the acting director. The CCD website still lists Bobbi Martinez as the compliance manager. Bernice Geiger, the public information officer for the department overseeing CCD, says they have not yet hired a replacement for Martinez.
With insider experience, the former state regulators undoubtedly bring an edge to consulting firm Weeds. “Weeds is fortunate to have landed several of the most talented people in the industry,” Weeds partner and co-founder Matt Kennicott said in a press release. “We’re looking forward to expanding our service offerings and forming a team that is committed to providing excellent service to our clients.”
But some see the move as an ethical issue. New Mexico State Senator Jacob Candelaria (DTS-Albuquerque) tweeted about the issue Monday, asking, “How is this not an ethical violation?”
“Does the Cannabis Regulation Act specifically prohibit the high ranking officials, who were in the Cannabis Control Division, from doing this? From leaving government service and then getting a sweetheart deal with private entities that she wants regulated?” Candelaria asks rhetorically. “No. But I certainly think an argument can be made that if it doesn’t violate the letter of the law, it surely violates the spirit of our ethics laws,” Candelaria told KRQE News 13.
The state senator is quick to point out that he too has come under scrutiny for cannabis-related ethics. An attorney, Candelaria has previously represented the cannabis company Ultra Health as outside legal counsel. In 2021, Candelaria was the subject of an ethics complaint highlighting his role as a senator voting on cannabis related legislation. Two state committees evaluated the complaint, but never moved forward with an investigation.
Candelaria admits he doesn’t know everything about Weeds’ business, but believes it’s concerning that former state regulators would be helping businesses navigate the regulatory process. And he also takes issue that Weeds founder Pat Davis holds a seat on Albuquerque’s city council — a council that gets to make decisions on where and when cannabis sales can happen in the city.
KRQE News 13 spoke with Davis about the allegations. He says he doesn’t vote on council matters regarding cannabis. For example, on June 22, when the council voted to continue a ban on cannabis sales in Old Town, Davis was recused from the vote.
“Even though I don’t represent people, my firm doesn’t represent cannabis people before the city, we do that anyway, just out of an abundance of caution,” Davis says. “My cannabis company doesn’t represent clients for the city.”
Candelaria says he’s hoping this situation could spark a discussion about changes in the state’s rules regarding what he calls a “revolving door.” He says the fact that government regulators can go straight into working for the industry they once regulated erodes public trust.
That future work is unlikely to involve Candelaria at the state legislature. The ten-year state senator says he will retire from his lawmaking position in December.