By Kate Bieri / ABC-7
SANTA FE – It may be legal to grow and smoke cannabis in New Mexico, but you cannot buy the plant for recreational use in the Land of Enchantment just yet.
“Sales cannot be launched in January,” said Superintendent Linda Trujillo, regulatory and licensing secretary for New Mexico. “I can tell you that.”
When the state voted to legalize recreational drugs this year, lawmakers tasked Trujillo with establishing a whole new system to allow the sale of cannabis by April 1, 2022.
“I knew cannabis would be legal this year just like the rest of us knew the pandemic was coming,” admitted Trujillo. “Implementing cannabis was not on my radar at all. ”
As of the end of November, 122 budding growers across the state had submitted applications, according to the department.
“It was a huge learning curve,” Trujillo said. “It’s a new industry, but there are some industry standards that we have been able to glean from other states. “
“It’s been an uphill battle to weed,” said Kevin Lutz, who co-founded High Noon Cannabis this year in the northwest corner of Doña Ana County with his neighbor, Herman Ortiz.
The new business partners dedicate 70 acres of land to Garfield for growing cannabis with a hydroponic system, a cultivation method that does not use soil. Ortiz said the land has been in his family for five generations.
“Our great-great-great-great-great-grandfather is buried on the property,” said Ortiz. “I hope that just as the Hatch Valley is known for the best chili in the world, we are going to be able to grow some of the best cannabis in the world. ”
Lutz and Ortiz had been preparing to start their business for over a year, but in order to grow recreationally, they had to wait for their license approval in October.
“Doctors, they already have their licenses,” Lutz said. “Even if they have to submit the same rules as us, they have already prepared it. “
Multi-million dollar players
“My heart is really in these plants,” said Armando Rascón, overlooking a handful of the thousands of plants he has grown for medical consumption on Ultra Health’s 14-acre campus in Bernalillo.
The 37-year-old told ABC-7 that he originally grew cannabis as a teenager in his apartment.
“At that point it was very frowned upon,” said Rascón. “It was still very illegal.”
Today, Ultra Health has 23 dispensaries and a 300-acre footprint across New Mexico. The company is expected to generate $ 60 million in revenue this year from medical sales alone. However, the state of New Mexico has imposed a limit of 10,000 plants produced by each company.
“The state is limiting the potential of the program,” said Rascón.
Ultra Health could be responsible for producing 10,000 plants and 22 strains of cannabis, but Rascón said he believes the company will have to buy crops from small farmers because he predicts there won’t be any. not enough for recreational sales.
“Unfortunately there will be a shortage,” said Rascón. “This shortage will come from the cap on the number of plants that growers are able to grow. ”
Trujillo, the state’s regulator, said she didn’t expect the product shortage to be an ongoing problem.
“We don’t think there is going to be a shortage,” Trujillo said. She said that during the first days of sales some dispensaries might run out of stocks, but she doesn’t think that will be long term.
Trujillo told ABC-7 that she had not decided on the 10,000 plant limit – lawmakers wrote that into law. However, she said other states saw their value plummet when growers were able to produce an unlimited supply of cannabis.
“What happens when you have an overflow is the market goes down, the cost of cannabis goes down,” Trujillo said. “People are losers. Their businesses are suffering.
Protect medical users
The recreational cultivation and sale of marijuana is new to Enchantment Land, but the medical use of cannabis products has been legal since 2007.
To protect the state’s tens of thousands of medical users, she said dispensaries will be required to sell 25% of their medical products for the whole of 2022. By 2023, this requirement will drop to 5% of sales for medical purposes. The State has the option of increasing this amount to 10% in the event of a shortage.
“We have triggers that we can move around in order to avoid a shortage,” Trujillo said.
However, Trujillo said the black market is likely to always exist.
“Other states haven’t seen this go away,” Trujillo said. “Our responsibility, and we take it very seriously, is to try to spotlight an illicit industry and get it run by the state.”
Cover photo: Two employees tend cannabis plants on the Ultra Health campus in Bernalillo. (Photo courtesy of ABC-7)