July 27, 2021

Growing Forward: Green Rush Part 1

By law, the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department has about a month before it has to start accepting applications from businesses looking to enter the new, non-medical cannabis industry. The state’s Cannabis Regulation Act, which was signed into law in April, legalized the adult-use and possession of cannabis as well as home-cultivation. The new law also allows for commercial sales, but leaves much of the specifics up to rules and regulations. 

RLD has to start accepting applications for cannabis business licenses no later than Sept. 1 and start issuing licenses no later than Jan. 1, 2022. Retail sales are required to start no later than April 1, 2022. 

But as RLD faces tight deadlines, there is a long list of cannabis industry hopefuls eager to get the process started. The eagerness was evident at a cannabis conference held in June. 

To kick off a third season, Growing Forward spoke to both attendees and vendors. Growing Forward is a collaborative podcast between New Mexico PBS and NM Political Report, which looks at cannabis in New Mexico. 

New Mexico state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said he planned on attending the conference before he was invited as a guest speaker. Maestas, who is a longtime advocate for cannabis legalization and was a co-sponsor of the Cannabis Regulation Act, said he was somewhat discouraged after RLD proposed rules that would require cannabis business applicants to secure a physical space before being approved. 

“Things are happening simultaneously. Folks are preparing to apply for the license while at the same time organizing investors, getting agreements from warehouses and hiring the actual folks who can grow the best cannabis. So it’s an interesting process,” Maestas said. “It’s really entrepreneurial and exciting, but it is frustrating from a regulatory standpoint.”

During a public rulemaking hearing in June, many people expressed frustration at the notion that a physical grow space would need to be secured before a license to grow would be issued.  

Albuquerque-based cannabis attorney Patricia Monaghan said she’s heard similar frustrations from her clients. 

“The number one question I’m getting from all clients is, ‘How can I meet these regulation requirements? How can I have this building that meets this code? How can I have all of this ready before I even have my license?’” Monaghan said. 

Since the first rulemaking hearing in June though, RLD Superintendent Linda Trujillo told NM Political Report that after hearing those concerns the department is now planning to issue provisional letters of approval to some applicants. Trujillo said the department originally required assurance of a physical space as a way to ensure applicants have followed local zoning laws. But she said she soon realized how those requirements would impact applicants. 

“We did recognize, and we recognized this really early on, that we’re kind of setting up this chicken before the egg,” Trujillo told NM Political Report. “And to say that you have to have that when the local folks are looking at whether or not you’re properly licensed with us puts people into a process that there really was no way to get off the merry-go-round and get a resolution.”

And while many of the attendees of the June convention were there to learn more about starting a cannabis business from scratch, plenty of existing cannabis-adjacent businesses also attended. Since medical cannabis was legalized in New Mexico in 2007, more and more businesses have started to focus on things that support the cannabis industry instead of actually selling cannabis. 

One of those businesses was AHL, an indoor garden supply store in southeast Albuquerque. Travis Chapman, who manages AHL, said the store has provided supplies to cannabis growers for years and that he hopes the store can eventually be licensed to sell cannabis seeds or cuttings, often referred to as clones.  

“We actually hope to get one of the micro licenses to be able to sell seeds and clones in our store,” Chapman said. “But it’s gonna come down to zoning and that kind of stuff for us probably.”

Listen to the entire episode below.