Rosa Cazares Toured the New Mexico State Capitol in March—and Met With the Lieutenant Governor

He won’t say what they discussed.

The CEO of the embattled La Mota dispensary chain visited the New Mexico state Capitol in March, records obtained through a public records request show. Shortly afterward, the company would aggressively begin its expansion into the state, where it now holds an estimated seven cannabis licenses, some in run-down buildings in small towns.

WHY IT MATTERS

Cazares’ visit is notable for several reasons.

First, Cazares and her longtime business partner, La Mota owner Aaron Mitchell, ingratiated themselves in recent years with top Oregon Democrats, including Gov. Tina Kotek and former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan—who resigned this spring after WW reported on a private consulting contract she signed with Cazares and Mitchell. Part of the couple’s strategy was to donate hefty sums to those politicians’ campaigns and host lavish parties for them.

La Mota’s political influence dimmed after WW’s reporting showed Cazares had tried to reduce state regulatory scrutiny through her connection to Fagan.

Second, the office of New Mexico Lt. Gov. Howie Morales hasn’t been forthcoming about what he and Cazares discussed.

Morales’ office told Oregon Public Broadcasting in May that he met twice with Cazares about La Mota’s expansion into New Mexico. (Cazares donated $7,200 to Morales’ reelection campaign last November.) “They were here asking questions about doing business in New Mexico, asking about the cannabis industry, the recent changes to our laws,” a spokesman for Morales told OPB at the time.

But for more than three months now, Morales and his staff have refused to answer WW’s questions about the substance of his meetings with Cazares. His office insists there are no meeting notes, texts, or meetings in Morales’ calendars that pertain to Cazares or La Mota—seemingly in direct conflict with the statement Morales’ office gave to OPB this spring.

Documents obtained by WW through a public records request show that Cazares met with people inside the New Mexico state Capitol this spring, and that staffers for Morales helped Cazares reach officials in counties into which Cazares wanted to expand.

That makes Morales’ refusal to answer questions about those meetings even more noteworthy.

WHAT THE RECORDS SHOW

It’s unclear how, and when exactly, Cazares first made contact with the New Mexico lieutenant governor’s office; the first email captured by WW’s records request is dated March 8, when Morales staffer Robin Gibson connected Cazares to Sue Gonzales, the executive officer to the county manager for Bernalillo County, which contains Albuquerque.

“I also want to introduce you to Rosa Cazares,” Gibson wrote to Gonzales. “Her business, La Mota, is opening locations around the state and needs to work with various counties where they’ll be operating.”

Less than 10 minutes later, Cazares emailed Gonzales: “I am currently on my way to the county office. Are you available to meet?”

Gonzales replied a couple hours later, apologizing for missing Cazares. But she offered to help with anything Cazares might need in the future.

That same morning, Gibson wrote to Becky Ortiz, a hospitality director that Morales’ office often used to find lodging for him during his travels, asking which hotel she’d recommend to Cazares since she had meetings at the New Mexico Capitol the following day.

“She has meetings at the roundhouse tomorrow and asked which Santa Fe hotel I’d recommend,” Gibson wrote.

Following her visit, Cazares gushed in a March 10 email about her “amazing day” at the Capitol to Martina C’deBaca, director of operations for Morales.

“I’m still in awe of the wonderful people you introduced me to during our time together. Each conversation was meaningful and inspiring, and I left with so much newfound knowledge and appreciation for the work being done in New Mexico,” Cazares wrote to C’deBaca. “I look forward to staying in touch and hopefully having the opportunity to meet with you again in the near future.”

C’deBaca forwarded the email to Morales.

Notably, Cazares donated a total of $7,200 to Morales in November 2022—all within the week preceding his reelection on Nov. 8. WW first asked about the extent of Morales’ relationship with Cazares and La Mota on Aug. 31. Records show Morales forwarded the questions to his chief of staff that same day and wrote, “This came in. We can discuss.” They never answered the questions.

WHAT LA MOTA IS DOING IN NEW MEXICO

It’s unclear just how many cannabis licenses—for dispensaries, manufacturing buildings and processing facilities—that La Mota currently has in New Mexico. The state’s two license databases provide different lists of La Mota licenses.

One of its dispensaries, however, is nestled in an industrial section of the tiny agricultural town of Clovis. Surrounded by warehouses, it’s located 10 minutes from New Mexico’s border with Texas, where the recreational sale of cannabis is illegal. That makes a legal weed dispensary potentially lucrative because customers will cross state lines to do business there.

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