March 8, 2019

The 2,500 plant dash: Medical cannabis producers prepare for expanded plant limit

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Photo Credit: ChelseyHerba Flickr via Compfight cc

The scramble to reach 2,500 has begun.

More than a quarter of medical cannabis producers in New Mexico have already applied to increase their grow operations to 2,500 plants since the state announced, through an emergency rule change, it would allow plant increases a week ago.

Of the 35 registered Licensed Non-Profit Producers (LNPP), 12 applied to increase the number of their plants and nine said they they intend to grow the maximum number of plants. That could mean 26,000 plants across the state, not counting the plants grown by patients who grow their own cannabis with a Personal Production License. That’s about double what the Department of Health reported in production at the end of  2018. But, that limit could change again later this year. In about six months, the Department of Health, which oversees the Medical Cannabis Program, said it would come up with a new, permanent plant limit for producers.

But, just because producers can grow up to 2,500 plants, there’s no guarantee they will or even can. Financial and infrastructural barriers could prevent some producers from getting more plants in the ground. Even for those producers who have the space, money and staff to ramp up to 2,500 plants, the process could take months.

Duke Rodriguez, president of New Mexico Top Organics — Ultra Health Inc., said his company staggers harvest times. So, Rodriguez said, even though Ultra Health has long had the capacity to accommodate up to 2,500 plants, the output will be more gradual.  

“Twenty five hundred sounds like a good start, but even to achieve that level, it’s unrealistic to expect that overnight,” Rodriguez said.

It is not surprising that Ultra Health was among the  first to apply for the plant count increase as the company sued the state over the previous 450 plant maximum.

Rodriguez said expects his company will be the quickest to get to full capacity, but added it could take up to a year for other companies to get close to 2,500 plants.

Clinton Greathouse, who runs Pecos Valley Production in Roswell, said he too is ready to  increase his plants.

“We can go immediately,” Greathouse said. “We have the space and the capability so that’s why we wanted [the increase].”

With the increase, he said, his non-profit may be able to open more dispensaries and serve more rural areas.

Smaller producers would need tens of thousands of dollars to pay for additional space, equipment and staff. Not only that, producers that want to expand into new locations need approval from DOH, including an initial inspection, and could face various zoning limitations. It’s unclear what the state will decide when it comes to a permanent plant count or when they’ll make an announcement. But according to the emergency rule change the Department of Health filed last week, the program has until the end of August to come up with a new plant limit. The state will also get a better idea of how many plants each producer actually has in production when the quarter ends and production reports from producers are due.