Hundreds of people vying to be a part of New Mexico’s newest legal industry gathered in downtown Albuquerque on Wednesday, a day after recreational-use cannabis became legal in the state.
Dozens of vendor booths that included marketing professionals, cultivation suppliers and cannabis educators attended the first day of the two-day Cannabis Legalization Conference.
Guest speakers at the conference included state regulators and current medical cannabis producers, but the keynote speaker was Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who called a special session earlier this year with the specific intention of passing a cannabis legalization bill. She then signed the bill into law after it was passed by the Legislature. Lujan Grisham told a crowd of industry hopefuls that she wants to see a cannabis industry that rivals those in nearby states.
“Here’s what every governor wants, me included: I want you to knock the socks off this industry and make sure just like green chile, states like Colorado, keep pointing to New Mexico and say, the best cannabis industry in the country is in New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said. “That’s what I expect. I’ve already gotten ready to purchase the billboards in Colorado so that I can poke a little productive, competitive fun at [Colorado] Governor [Jared] Polis, who you should know is a champion, and very good colleague and friend of mine, but that’s what good governors do.”
Lujan Grisham also spoke about the special session in which cannabis legalization passed and recalled that she didn’t want lawmakers to finish until cannabis legalization passed and made it to her desk.
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.
The Albuquerque City Council made zoning restrictions and allowances for recreational-use cannabis official Thursday night after a six hour meeting to approve the city’s updated Integrated Development Ordinance.
For weeks, both those in the medical cannabis industry and those hoping to be a part of the recreational-use cannabis industry have raised their concerns about zoning proposals related to cannabis, namely those that came from Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s office. But the council rejected all but one proposal from Keller’s administration.
Most of the concern from the cannabis industry was that the city would effectively zone out new cannabis retailers, manufacturers and retailers.
Keller’s office originally proposed barring cannabis retail stores from areas that are considered to be a Main Street Corridor, or sections of the city designed to be walkable with local businesses. Examples of Main Street Corridors in Albuquerque are Nob Hill, downtown and the Barelas neighborhood, just south of downtown.
Keller’s proposal would have prohibited cannabis retail shops “abtutting” those areas, in addition to prohibiting them from being within 300 feet of areas zoned as residential. All but one councilor voted against the measure. Councilor Trudy Jones, who sponsored the proposal, said she ultimately decided to vote against the proposal after talking to local businesses along Central in the Nob Hill neighborhood.
“They would welcome having cannabis within our requirements, our laws and our regulations on Central, because they are dying,” Jones said.
Cannabis legalization in New Mexico was sold as, amongst other things, a job creator. Those who are eyeing the new industry are navigating proposed rules and regulations and making plans for real space, how many plants they will be able to grow and how to get their applications approved by the state. Now there seems to be a niche market for cannabis adjacent businesses, particularly those aimed at guiding business owners through the process.
Even prior to the passage of the Cannabis Regulation Act in the New Mexico Legislature, a handful of consulting and legal firms specializing in cannabis regulations and law existed. But since the Cannabis Regulation Act passed, there are at least three elected officials who are currently, or plan to, sell their knowledge to those interested in getting in at the ground floor of what is expected to become a booming new industry.
That raises questions about the ethics of state and local lawmakers selling their services in an industry they sometimes have a hand at creating. But some of those elected officials who operate cannabis adjacent businesses say they are keeping things ethical but that the dilemma could be avoided if lawmakers are paid an actual wage.
On the evening of March 31, which was the last day of New Mexico’s special legislative session, the state Senate was deep in a debate over cannabis legalization.
While the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department scrambles to fully implement regulations for non-medical cannabis, those who plan to get into the new industry as well as those already in the medical cannabis industry are already trying to navigate proposed rules.
With an April 2022 deadline to have a fully implemented adult-use cannabis program, RLD has posted proposed rules that will be considered on June 29, the same day the recently passed Cannabis Regulation Act goes into effect. But that also means current medical cannabis producers and those industry hopefuls are combing through the proposed rules, watching local zoning proposals and hoping to get the ear of regulators and elected officials.
Matt Muñoz and his business partners are just several of many who are watching the process closely in order to better understand proposed rules and regulations and be prepared to hit the ground running.
Muñoz is finishing his last few weeks of work in the University of New Mexico’s Office of Government & Community Relations while he and his business partners plan for deadlines and shape their business to comply with state regulations. During legislative sessions, Muñoz serves as a lobbyist for the university and he said that work has connected him with lawmakers as well as various department staffers. But he said not everyone has the advantage of knowing who to call with questions or concerns.
“One of the benefits of where I’ve come from with the lobbying world is, I do have those connections,” Muñoz said. “I can help our small business figure this out, but the average New Mexican isn’t going to have that same ability that I have just because I have the connections from being at the Legislature for 10 years.”
Muñoz and his partners already registered their business, Carver Family Farms, with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office and plan to get a cannabis microbusiness license which would allow them to grow up to 200 cannabis plants.
Recreational-use cannabis sales are a year away in New Mexico, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is already considering ways for the state to lead the market in innovation.
One idea, which she said she co-opted from her communications director, is some sort of fusion of cannabis and chile.
“It is the kind of thing that would be iconic for a state like this,” Lujan Grisham said. “And there’s so many places where we really can lead the country and the world in incredible new ways to utilize and use cannabis.”
Growing Forward, the collaborative podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS, spoke with New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday about adult-use cannabis in New Mexico and some of the specifics that go along with its legalization.
The Cannabis Regulation Act, which Lujan Grisham signed earlier this month, won’t go into effect until June 29 and sales won’t start until April 2022. But the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department, which will oversee cannabis regulation, is already putting together an advisory committee and gearing up to start the licensing process this fall.
Lujan Grisham said her role during the implementation process will be to “keep this moving” to make sure the state hits its deadlines.
“My job is going to be to make sure that they stay on task, on track.” Lujan Grisham said. “That if there are problems that we didn’t identify early on that are raised as a result, that I find vehicles to solve those problems.”
RLD already called for applicants for the Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee, which, by statute, must be established by September. One of the qualifications to be on that committee is to not be associated with an existing business in the medical cannabis industry.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday signed two bills that, together, legalize the use and possession of cannabis and expunge previous cannabis related criminal records.
“This legislation is a major, major step forward for our state,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “Legalized adult-use cannabis is going to change the way we think about New Mexico for the better – our workforce, our economy, our future. We’re ready to break new ground. We’re ready to invest in ourselves and the limitless potential of New Mexicans. And we’re ready to get to work in making this industry a successful one.”
The New Mexico Legislature passed HB 2 and SB 2 last month during a special session.
Pending a signature from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico is set to become the latest state to fully legalize cannabis. And while the state has received an abundance of national attention for the feat, some may have forgotten or overlooked the national attention a former governor garnered more than two decades ago for his, then-controversial, stance that cannabis should be legalized.
In the late 1990s, then-Gov. Gary Johnson, at the time a Republican, made national headlines for advocating for full legalization of cannabis, nearly seven years before the state would legalize medical-use cannabis and more than a decade before Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational-use cannabis.
Since leaving office after his second term as governor, Johnson twice ran for president and once for U.S. Senate as a Libertarian.
Johnson told NM Political Report that he’s not one to say, “I told you so,” but that he is proud of being an early advocate for full legalization. “I do take pride, and I would not mind my obituary, if anybody runs it, saying that ‘This was the highest elected official in the country to call for marijuana legalization for about 15 years,’” he said. “I mean, I think I held that title for about 15 years.”
Lujan Grisham called for a special session, in part, to legalize adult-use cannabis and expunge prior cannabis related criminal records.
Much of the criticism from Republicans during the special session was that New Mexico is just not ready to legalize. But others, namely Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, argued that specifics of the cannabis industry should be left to the free market and not overly regulated by the state.
New Mexico is slated to be the 18th state to legalize recreational-use cannabis and the fifth state to do so legislatively.
HB 2, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Albuquerque and three other legislators, sped through multiple committee hearings and Senate and House Floor debates in less than two days. The rushed effort was part of the special legislative session called by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, just days after the regular 60-day session.
Lujan Grisham, in a statement on Wednesday, praised the bill’s sponsors and called the passage of legalization a “breakthrough.”
“As New Mexicans know, I have advocated and pushed and negotiated for this measure, and I am immensely proud and humbled to have seen it through,” Lujan Grisham said. “But that feeling is dwarfed by the gratitude I feel for the well-informed advocates, to the community members from all across the state–urban and rural, from every region–who have been committed to lobbying for this, to the leaders in the Legislature who helped us cross this major threshold.”
The new law will allow adults 21 and older to personally possess up to two ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of cannabis extract or 800 milligrams of edibles. A person can have more than that, but it must be locked in a safe place at home. Adults 21 and older can also grow up to six mature plants. Licensed sales will begin no later than April 2022 and the state will begin issuing business licenses by January 2022.
A cannabis legalization bill passed two committees, one on Tuesday afternoon and the other during the early hours of Wednesday morning. It’s slated for a floor debate next
HB 2, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, along with three other lawmakers, first passed the House Taxation and Revenue Committee Tuesday evening on a 8-4 vote. Then the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee early Tuesday morning by a 7-4 vote. Both votes were along party lines, with no Republicans voting for the bill and all Democrats voting in favor.
HB 2 is an altered version of a previous bill Martínez and Romero sponsored during the regular 60-day session and much of the debate and comments were also similar.
During the first hearing, Martínez took a moment to point out that this proposal has been in the works for years and has seen hours of debate.
“The bill before you, Madam Chairman, members of the committee, has been written and rewritten and amended and subbed out for many, many years,” said during the tax committee debate.
One of the more significant changes made since the regular session is a compromise of sorts on plant limits for cannabis producers. Originally, the bill proposed during the regular session specifically barred the state from implementing production limits.