Today marks the first official day of adult-use cannabis legalization in New Mexico. But legal sales for those without authorization to purchase and use medical cannabis will not begin until sometime early next year.
The New Mexico Legislature passed the Cannabis Regulation Act earlier this year during a special session and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed it into law several days later. The new law dictates that legal sales will begin no later than April 1, 2022, but there is still more work to be done in terms of setting up the framework for the state’s newest industry. Here’s just some of what you should know about legal cannabis and what is or isn’t permitted.
Failure is not an option
The newly established Cannabis Control Division is overseen by the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department. In preparation for its third season, Growing Forward—a collaborative podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS—spoke with Regulation and Licensing Superintendent Linda Trujillo in April about the next steps for the state. She said her staff is working diligently to meet what she called a tight deadline to start accepting applications for cannabis businesses by Sept. 1 and then start issuing licenses by Jan. 1, 2022.
“It’s just not an option for us to not get it done. Failure is not even in the books, it’s not an option. So, we have to do it,” Trujillo said. “But, what we are doing and what we’re trying to do, is to be realistic and to prioritize the things that are the most important, focus all of our attention on those, get as much input as we can from those who are already in the business and try to roll that into the rules that we have to adopt.”
While the Cannabis Regulation Act is nearly 200 pages long and covers many details of the new industry, it also leaves much of the specifics up to rules that must be adopted before cannabis industry hopefuls start applying for business licenses. RLD is holding a public rulemaking hearing today and will hear from members of the public who signed up to speak at the hearing. RLD will also accept public comments in written form online.
In April, Trujillo also told Growing Forward that her department was busy going through the 160 applications of those who applied to be a member of the Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee. The Cannabis Regulation Act stipulates that Trujillo must appoint one person for each specific committee position. Those positions include someone who has expertise in environmental science, someone who is a medical cannabis patient and someone who has experience with labor organizations, among others. The deadline to apply for those positions was May 23.
Heather Brewer, a spokesperson for RLD said the department is in the final stages of appointing an advisory committee.
“As soon as that is done, which should be within a matter of days, maybe a week, it’s a really short timeframe at this point, we will be able to make that announcement publicly,” Brewer said.
While state law prohibits anyone with a financial interest in a licensed cannabis company, one spot on the committee requires expertise in cannabis laboratory science, which is a limited field, especially in New Mexico, where there are only two licensed cannabis testing labs. Trujillo said filling that position might require some creativity on her part. She said at least one applicant who has experience in cannabis testing and research lives out of state.
“I’m just not certain that I’m interested in someone from outside of the state,” Trujillo said in April. “But, it’s possible that, in that respect, we may have to look for someone outside the state.”
What’s legal and what’s not
The cannabis legalization law also included some new civil and criminal penalties. For instance, while home cultivation is now legal, there are some stipulations and limitations. Only those who are 21 years of age or older can grow their own cannabis plants and each person is limited to six mature plants. If more than one person in a household is growing cannabis, up to 12 plants are allowed, but that is the maximum number of plants allowed without a state issued cultivation license. Anyone growing more than six plants is subject to a $50 fine and anyone growing more than 12 plants could face a fourth degree felony. A person under the same circumstances, who is older than 18, but younger than 21 could also face a $50 fine or a misdemeanor charge, respectively. Providing cannabis to a minor also comes with possible felony charges.
Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart said her office is slightly shifting focus now that cannabis is legal, but she also warned all New Mexicans to educate themselves on the law.
“I can’t say this too strongly: Learn the law yourself. Research the law. Research the intricacies,” Stewart said.
Stewart said she is not prioritizing enforcing things like limits on home grows, but that her officers will be on the lookout for cannabis use around schools and other violations involving minors.
And while growing cannabis at home is now legal, there seems to be some gray area regarding how to legally obtain seeds or cuttings of cannabis plants, often referred to as clones.
Seeds are sparsely mentioned in the Cannabis Regulation Act, and mainly mentioned in the definition of “cannabis.”
While there are a number of places to buy cannabis seeds both locally and from other states, there is still some legal ambiguity. Trujillo said she anticipates that some home cultivators may end up purchasing seeds or cuttings from Colorado or Arizona, where adult-use cannabis is legal, but that the legality of crossing state lines with cannabis products is completely out of her purview or jurisdiction.
“If you can possess the cannabis and you can grow the cannabis on June 29th and the only place to get that is Colorado or Arizona, that’s probably what’s going to happen,” Trujillo said.
Once the seeds are procured and planted, there is no limit to how much a home grower can harvest and store in their home, but there is a limit of “two ounces of cannabis, sixteen grams of cannabis extract and eight hundred milligrams of edible cannabis in public.”
According to Trujillo, home cultivators will be allowed to give away the fruits of their labor to adults 21 years of age or older as long as there isn’t compensation in exchange for cannabis. Adding to the ambiguity, the Cannabis Regulation Act defines trafficking as “the distribution, sale, barter or giving away of cannabis products.”
Brewer cited another section of the law that states gifting cannabis is allowed, adding that the trafficking definition refers to unauthorized sales.
“Our understanding is that the legislators’ intent was to allow for gifts of legally purchased cannabis to someone legally allowed to possess cannabis and to prevent the giving away of cannabis, without a license,” Brewer said. “If it turns out that this language is sufficiently vague as to create actual confusion in the enforcement of the law, it might be worth the Legislature going back and clarifying the language.”
But while New Mexico made sweeping changes to its cannabis laws tribal governments around the state have their own laws regarding cannabis and cannabis is still federally illegal.
Here are some important deadlines for adult-use cannabis in New Mexico:
September 1, 2021: RLD must start accepting applications for cannabis businesses and the Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee must be appointed by this date.
January 1, 2022: RLD must start issuing cannabis business licenses no later than this date.
April 1, 2022: Sales of non-medical cannabis must start no later than this date.