New MexiCann director faces felony arson charges

Sean P. Thomas, The Santa Fe New Mexican
·2 min read

Feb. 27—The executive director of New MexiCann Natural Medicine is facing two felony arson charges related to an explosion that injured two employees in October.

The charges were filed Friday against Carlos Gonzales, 56, of Santa Fe in Santa Fe County Magistrate Court.

According to the criminal complaint, Gonzales is accused of switching out a hot plate in the marijuana extraction room at the medical cannabis company's San Mateo Lane headquarters to one that goes against manufacturing standards, leading to the fire.

Josh Alderete, one of the victims in the explosion, was asked to take over the extraction process due to an absent co-worker and warned Gonzales about changing the hot plates, the complaint states. He also indicated the plate was set at the highest setting, 500 degrees, against manufacturing standards for the THC extraction process.

"Did we not learn from the last explosion?" Alderete said, according to the complaint, referring to a similar accident at the facility years earlier.

"We cannot be skipping steps, this causes accidents," he added.

Gonzales replied, "If it weighs, it pays."

Josh Martinez, who spent several weeks recovering in the University of Colorado Medical Center burn unit after being airlifted from Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, told investigators he was asked to assist in the process despite not having the necessary training and had heard of Gonzales altering the process prior to inspections, before switching it back.

The plates were switched from a "closed loop" to an "open loop" system, according to the complaint, which is not approved by the state Department of Health.

In a closed-loop system, the ethanol alcohol, which is used to extract THC from the plant, is not manually collected. Instead, it is pushed into another enclosed tank for reuse.

According to the complaint, as the two were pouring the ethanol mixture onto the hot plate, it spilled and caught the two on fire.

The complaint says Gonzales told Alderete, who suffered burns on 37 percent of his body, that the accident was his fault as he was being loaded into an ambulance.

Another explosion occurred in 2015, when two other employees were burned. The state Occupational Safety and Health Bureau issued fines totaling $13,500 against the business and cited the business for 12 "serious" workplace violations.

One of the victims in the 2015 explosion, Nick Montoya, ultimately sued the business.

The New Mexico Department of Health notified New MexiCann earlier this month that it was considering revoking the company's license to produce medical cannabis due to the October fire.

Immediately after the fire, the department suspended the company's ability to manufacture cannabis-derived products.