August 1, 2022

Growing Forward: Let’s Do It Live! (In Las Cruces)

Southern New Mexico arguably has unique issues compared to the central and northern parts of the state. That rings especially true when it comes to the state’s cannabis industry which launched earlier this year after the passage of the Cannabis Regulation Act. 

Growing Forward, the collaborative podcast between New Mexico PBS and NM Political Report, recently visited Las Cruces and spoke with two lawmakers from the area and the director of the state’s Cannabis Chamber of Commerce for a special live episode.

New Mexico state Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, has been a vocal proponent of both medical and non-medical-use cannabis. She said when she was growing up her brother smoked cannabis, but that she initially had a negative experience with it while she was in high school.    

“I grew up in El Paso, and I had an older brother. At the time, he was a frequent user of cannabis,” Hamblen said. “I tell the story about how my mom would always get a little upset every time she’d see little sprouts coming out of her houseplants because that’s where my brother would put his seeds.”

More recently though, Hamblen and her wife have found numerous benefits of using cannabis. Hamblen said she uses it to help combat insomnia and her wife uses cannabis to alleviate anxiety, which is a result of a traumatic brain injury. 

Hamblen said she knows of other lawmakers who have also seen the benefits of using cannabis, but that there is still a stigma surrounding the plant that often prevents many people from being open about their cannabis use. 

“If we had a statewide campaign that helped uplift folks, and not just folks in positions of influence, but I think everyday folks who are willing to say, ‘I use cannabis,’ I think that we would be able to help destigmatize that and make it part of the regular conversation, not kind of this taboo conversation, because it shouldn’t be that.”

The state Legislature isn’t scheduled to meet again until early next year, but Hamblen expects there to be at least some legislation to fine-tune the state’s cannabis law. 

“This issue is something that has to be addressed every year,” Hamblen said. “This is not something that is going to be fixed immediately with one massive bill.”

On a more local level though, Las Cruces seems to be bucking a trend amongst the state’s larger cities by explicitly avoiding prohibitive cannabis ordinances like limiting retail operating hours. Las Cruces City Councilor Johana Bencomo said that’s because the current City Council “just gets it.”

“As we’re moving out of prohibition, for lack of a better word, it would be silly for us to then continue to add prohibitive ordinances,” Bencomo said. 

She added that there are a number of old buildings in Las Cruces that have been brought back to life because of cannabis retailers. 

“What I’ve seen so far is there’s a huge opportunity and potential for economic development for entrepreneurship, and in my district certainly, for revitalization,” Bencomo said. 

Growing Forward also heard from New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ben Lewinger about the overall health of the state’s newest industry. 

Leading up to the passage of the Cannabis Regulation Act, there were many debates and disagreements between the bill’s sponsors and other lawmakers about whether social equity provisions should be included in the bill. Democratic state Reps. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe and Javier Martínez of Albuquerque both insisted that the law should include guidance for making the industry as fair and equitable as possible. 

“I didn’t quite understand that at the time,” Lewinger said. “But now that we have over 800 new licensed [cannabis] businesses across the state, I see what they meant was they were just removing barriers, whereas other states have made it really difficult and cost-intensive to get a license. And even states that had social equity quotas, and they reserved licenses for black and brown and indigenous people but there were no supports that came in after that.”

Growing Forward’s visit also marked the end of the podcast’s fourth season. The entire episode recorded in Las Cruces is linked below and the podcast’s fifth season will launch later this year.