SANTA FE – The owner of a cannabis manufacturing plant and dispensary accused of causing an explosion had his criminal charges thrown out during a preliminary hearing in Santa Fe magistrate court Thursday.
Carlos Gonzales, 56, owner of New Mexicann Natural Medicine in Santa Fe, was facing two fourth-degree felony counts of negligent arson for allegedly failing to ensure the proper safety equipment was in place and for failing to use a closed-loop extraction system when making concentrated hash oil.
Santa Fe Magistrate Judge David Segura issued an order Thursday stating there wasn’t probable cause to bind them over to the 1st Judicial District Court. Ultimately, the case was discharged.
Defense attorney John Day said probable cause is an extremely low standard and the judge’s decision came after prosecutors put on a “couple hours” of testimony.
“It was clear this was a terrible decision by the district attorney to proceed with this case,” Day said. “They didn’t have evidence. They had an incompetent investigation by the fire marshal’s office.”
Day accused the District Attorney’s Office of only interviewing one person for the case, who he claims was being coached by a personal injury attorney. Day said the judge’s decision is an example of how the criminal justice system can work well and how innocent people can be wrongfully charged.
But 1st Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said she may refile the charges.
“Testimony at yesterday’s hearing provided new and clearer information regarding the incident and investigation,” she said. “The case is still under review in our office and may be refiled.”
Gonzales was accused of altering the hot plate system used to extract THC from the cannabis plant at the facility. The Department of Health allows only closed-loop extractions and Gonzales allegedly switched the hot plates to an open-loop system.
That exposed the ethanol used in the extraction process, which is how the October 2020 explosion occurred at the production plant on San Mateo Lane. The explosion severely injured two New Mexicann employees.
In April, the dispensary had its producers license permanently revoked by the Department of Health and was fined $142,000.
Day said the Department of Health’s decision to revoke the producer license was based on some of the “fake” evidence presented at the preliminary hearing. He said he’s looking into that, but it’s a separate issue from the criminal case.
“If it turns out that there was false evidence or incompetent evidence – incompetent investigations – then that’s certainly a possibility for some future action, we just don’t know yet,” Day said.