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.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(18) comments

Richard Forrest

Senator Duhigg, just because you’ve figured out legal work-arounds, doesn’t mean you’re not taking advantage of your position and benefiting personally from your political position. Now that you’ve set yourself up to make a fortune from your political machinations, you should have the decency to resign and just embrace your new lucrative work in the pot industry. “A public servant” you are not.

Francisco Carbajal

Seriously, I am not surprise regardless on what final outcome arrives relating to the term of "good or bad ethic's" involving our state legislator's daily behavior and/or actions. It is a lost cause altogether.

John Martinez

Another MOVIDA for NM politics....the Governor's "Campaign fund" gets bigger from THC Companies, Politics that own real estate get more money leasing to these thc companies and all our children (future voters) and families stay doped up to not know better or even care. You politicans are so money-hungry and it sways your vote 100% of the time now, no hiding any more. Disgusting! SMH!!

Russell Scanlon

Whatever the specific circumstances, whatever the nuances of the law, this kind of thing is why people hate politics and politicians.

Perhaps if we made the members of the State Lege more like full time employees and paid them a realistic full time wage, this kind of thing would not happen so much. These days I kind of doubt it. Greed and opportunism have become the hallmarks of our society and our government.

There was a time when “Public Service” was a somewhat honorable profession and was Now it’s just a revolving door for lobbyists and opportunists. Hopefully some of the tax revenue from legal marijuana sales will find it’s way into public education where it is so desperately needed.

I am a lifelong Democratic voter BTW—but this really ticks me off.

Mike Johnson

Well said, as a lifelong Democrat (conservative/moderate) I agree. But politics today is not even close to "public service". It is all about the politician, how they can cheat and steal legally (or almost so with plausible deniability), how they can build their egos, and how they can perfect their skills of self-aggrandizement. They serve no one but themselves, and the special interests who keep them in office. Paying a salary will not change anything, look at Congress, Governors, etc.

Russell Scanlon

I don’t agree with all of that—I think there are still people in government who sincerely want to serve the public. Almost every one of them are progressives. Everyone has an ego that drives them—not all of them end up being grifters or sociopaths.

Mike Johnson

Yes Mr. Scanlon, I will not rule out the possibility of a "black swan" politician. I just do not personally know any, but I do know all the ones who represent me currently and they are as I described, IMO.

Khal Spencer

Agree, Russell, with you and Mike.

Mike Johnson

Typical garden variety, run-of-the-mill corruption for NM. I am surprised a certain famous WhistlePig connoisseur and ostrich farmer wasn't the first to cash in however. I would opine that since this Senator is sure the ethics and corruption laws and oversight commissions are OK with all this should tell people how poorly those laws and that commission function in practice. Time for a change, that of course will not come in NM.

John Cook

We let doctors serve in legislatures and vote to limit malpractice cases; we let teachers serve in legislatures and vote on funding for teachers; we let ranchers serve and vote on grazing issues; the list is very long.

Russell Scanlon

This kind of thing stinks and makes everyone look bad.

Khal Spencer

It looks pretty bad but as Mr. Cook said, we have a lot of professions in the legislature and it would be hard to draw sharp lines. But yeah, it does waft quite an odor. Vote on something and then suddenly get the call to cash in on it.

Richard Reinders

If there is a conflict no matter the profession they should not vote.

Khal Spencer

Awww. Overblown. Let's all sit back with a glass of Whistle Pig Whiskey and not worry about grift in the Legislature.

Richard Reinders

This is the same argument why the lawyers in the house could not vote for the civil rights bill. They use tax payer dollars to fund their personal businesses. Can you say conflict of interest.

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Mike Johnson

Not at all, you are conflating critical, analytical analysis of political policy positions and activities with hate. Being critical of politicians for what they say and do is not the same as hate. And BTW, hate can't be "spread" like a rumor, hate only multiplies as more and more people agree with the reasons for it.

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Jim Klukkert

While I appreciate your support I must hasten to deflect your calling out Mike Johnson as 'spewing" "hate for hate's sake."

Mike is actually fairly reasonable, and though, like myself, Mike does have his off days, I find reasoned conservative perspectives valuable, and all the moreso as they are diminished in the party of Trump.

Mike and I do have offline email conversations, and we have found that we have more in common than that which divides us. As a neighbor in a distant part of the Pojoaque Valley, I know he is a man of a compassionate heart, one who does good works.

So whilst I, a Democratic Socialist, do most often disagree with my friend the Democratic Capitalist, I most often value his comments, and find his wit no less acerbic than mine, when either feels it warranted.

The internet, like the powerful metal horses that transport us about, have made us all the more distant from each other. At a time when we most need to know each other by name and face, we are more anonymous as each day passes.

If we are to survive, let alone defeat, the myriad challenges we face, we must do that together. A little more analogue face time might help, and certainly we can all use a lot more compassion and love, not uncritically, but in spades.

Thanks again Mark for your support, and for your input on these pages. Your arrows most often find their mark!

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Mike Johnson

Thank you Jim, I always appreciate our discussions.

Welcome to the discussion.

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