ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – If there’s a man who exemplifies how the country and New Mexico has evolved on medical marijuana, it might be Darren White.
“I had reasons for why I believed what I did,” White said. “I’m not ashamed to sit here and tell you I was wrong.”
In the early 1990s, White sang anti-drug slogans as part of a band of Albuquerque police officers called “The Force”.
In 1999, White quit his job as the state’s public safety secretary during a fight with Governor Gary Johnson over drug legalization, with White saying Johnson’s support of legalizing heroin was the final straw.
After a stint as a reporter with News 13, White was elected Bernalillo County Sheriff. In 2007, he spoke out specifically against medical cannabis while Governor Bill Richardson pushed to implement the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act.
“I’ve never supported medical marijuana,” White said in a 2007 interview with the newspaper the Albuquerque Tribune. “I’m very sympathetic to the patients. I watched my father die of cancer, and it’s the most difficult thing in the world, but I don’t think you have to smoke marijuana to gain the comfort and relief that’s provided by the THC.”
So how did White go from medical marijuana opponent to his current role with newly licensed non-profit pot producer Purlife? White says seeing a friend of his with a debilitating disease have “his life changed” by using cannabis was a part of it, as was his personal experience.
“I have had my leg reconstructed, I have had back surgery and I know firsthand the struggle that patients face dealing with chronic pain,” White said. “Consuming a steady diet of painkillers doesn’t equal a quality of life.”
“I know that medical cannabis works and it’s also the reason why I’m a cardholder.”
It turns out there was a significant demand for White to get into the industry itself. He says he was approached by three companies to provide his expertise on a security plan once it became clear that the state planned on issuing more licenses for non-profit producers.
Next week the state will release information about those producers that was previously kept secret following a lawsuit by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and journalist Peter St. Cyr. However, information on patients will not be released.
White wasn’t the only one who either successfully or unsuccessfully attempted to get in the medical cannabis industry. Former deputy sheriff, David Linthicum, is listed as a director for Albuquerque Bernalillo County Organics Inc.
Former Bernalillo County sheriff candidate, Scott Baird, submitted an application to get one of the dozen producer slots offered by the state but tells KRQE News 13 his bid was turned down.
“It looked like a good business opportunity,” Baird said in a brief phone interview. “I thought we could help the community.”
Former Bernalillo County prosecutor turned defense attorney and legalization advocate Ethan Simon says he’s not surprised to see former law enforcement look to get involved in the industry and thinks it sends a message to the community.
“They put the veneer of legitimacy on the medical marijuana programs that exist in this state,” Simon said. “When [White] puts his stamp of approval on an organization that’s getting medicine to sick people that’s different than just someone who knows how to grow marijuana on a large scale.”
“I think as the program grows, you become more familiar with people that you see firsthand have benefited from this program,” White said. “It works, it absolutely works.”
On the topic of marijuana legalization though, White isn’t ready to go there yet, at least not for New Mexico.
“I think we can all agree that day is gonna come,” White said. “That day for New Mexico is not now.”