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.

New Mexico’s first day of legal adult-use cannabis

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.

Gov. Lujan Grisham: NM can lead the way in cannabis innovation

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.

Growing Forward: Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth talks legalization

The New Mexico state Senate will likely start the official push for full cannabis legalization as late as next week, according to the top member of Democratic leadership. 

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said the Senate will not meet for its second floor session until Feb. 1, but that he expects “a huge bucket of bills” to be officially introduced then. At least one of those bills is expected to be a cannabis legalization proposal. 

“We just had a very long day on Tuesday,” Wirth said in the first episode of the second season of Growing Forward, the collaborative podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS. “But we’ll be back on the first and I think at that point you will see exactly what’s there and can analyze those and discuss them and certainly we welcome input.”

At least one recreational legalization bill is expected in the New Mexico House of Representatives within days. 

Wirth said a new class of progressive Senators elected last year who are in favor of legalization could help push the issue through the Legislature and to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. But, he said, that hinges on Senators’ willingness to work together on specific issues. 

“So that, of course, is contingent upon us getting through all the details and seeking compromise amongst the various proposals, and the good news is that we’ve been having those conversations already,” Wirth said.

Growing Forward: Holiday Leftovers

This week marks the final episode of Growing Forward’s first season. This week, we talk about some of the things we didn’t get to in subsequent episodes. 

One of those issues is banking. Over the years, as states began legalizing both medical and recreational-use cannabis, there have been numerous reports of cannabis companies struggling with where to put their money. Nationally accredited banks have historically been hesitant to openly take money from sales of a federally illegal substance. 

We talked to Patty Lindley, the director of compliance and quality at U.S. Eagle Federal Credit Union about how that organization is working with medical cannabis companies to make banking safe and legitimate. Lindley said U.S. Eagle has a seperate program for medical cannabis banking that she hopes will appease federal regulators. 

“I do expect there to be some extra scrutiny on the program, so we’re prepared for that,” Lindley said.

Growing Forward: A trip to a dispensary and manufacturing facility

In this week’s episode of Growing Forward, we took a field trip. 

Co-host Megan Kamerick and I visited both a dispensary and a cannabis manufacturing facility to learn more about how medical cannabis patients in New Mexico get their medicine and to learn about some extraction processes. 

Our first stop was to R. Greenleaf in Albuquerque. Our tour guide was Dominic Garcia, the director of retail operations for the dispensary’s management company Reynold Greenleaf and Associates. Garcia said the dispensary runs on a pharmacy model where the cannabis is dispensed from a window behind the counter. 

Garcia said employees are not licensed medical providers but can still help new patients navigate the many different varieties of cannabis and many different methods of consuming it.   

“A lot of times also the peer educator will ask about what their ailment is and then from there, they can help educate them from a point of also being a patient,” Garcia said. 

From there, Megan and I went to Mountain Top Extracts, also in Albuquerque. 

Eric Merryman is part owner, along with his wife Jennifer, of the manufacturing company. Eric said he started the business after he helped his ailing mother find ways to combat the symptoms of cancer. Eventually, Eric and Jennifer were licensed by the state to make cannabis extracts and derivatives.

Cannabis and Indigenous Communities

Native Americans governments across the country and even in New Mexico are diverse in many of their views, including cannabis. 

This week on Growing Forward, a podcast collaboration between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS, we take a look at how Native American communities fit into state-wide legalization efforts. 

We spoke with Navajo Times reporter Arlyssa Becenti about the work she’s done covering a hemp and cannabis scandal near Shiprock. 

Becenti has been covering a hemp growing operation overseen by Dineh Benally. Most recently, federal law enforcement got involved and reportedly arrested a group of people accused of illegally growing hemp and possibly cannabis with THC. 

Benally said the Navajo Nation is working on clarifying and changing laws on hemp. But cannabis with THC is still illegal in New Mexico and in the Navajo Nation. 

Becenti told Growing Forward that some in the Navajo Nation are still grappling with hemp’s place in their community, but that trying to pinpoint one unified view on cannabis is hard.  

“There’s just no one underlying traditional belief,” Becenti said. “We all have our different beliefs and how we interpret Navajo beliefs and Navajo traditions, even Native language is so different from one side of the reservation to the next side of the reservation.”

Monica Braine, a producer with the nation-wide call-in show Native America Calling, agreed that just like counties and states don’t have a unified view on legalization, Native American governments also have a diverse outlook on the matter. 

But, Braine said for those tribal governments that do want to get in on the legalization action, it can be tricky. 

“In the past, it kind of seemed like tribes have been sort of an afterthought unless they demand or it’s required by law that consultation happens,” Braine said. 

She added that she doesn’t think tribal leaders necessarily have the resources to squeeze their way to the proverbial negotiation table to make sure they’re included in legalization legislation. 

“I’m not sure that pueblos and tribes in New Mexico have the time and energy to make sure that they have a place at the table and they shouldn’t have to,” Braine said. 

But Emily Kaltenbach with the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance said she’s not entirely sure what legalization bills next year will look like exactly, but that previous attempts did address Native American governments. 

“Last year’s bill actually required that there would be some tribal agreements with the state for many reasons,” Kaltenbach said. “We want to see sovereign nations be able to stand up their own legalization systems, both on the medical and the adult-use side.”

New episodes of Growing Forward, which was made possible, in part, by the New Mexico Local News Fund, are released every Tuesday. 

You can check out the latest episode below or you can search for it wherever you normally listen to your podcasts. 

Growing Forward: Testing and regulations

An ongoing debate in the medical cannabis community is over how much New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program should be regulated and to what testing standards the state should hold producers. 

This week in Growing Forward, we take a look at the state’s regulations and testing standards. 

The state’s Medical Cannabis Program is solely overseen by the New Mexico Department of Health. Dominick Zurlo, the director of the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, said some other states’ medical cannabis programs are overseen by multiple different agencies. 

“New Mexico is fairly unique in this way that we have an overarching Department of Health that covers the entire state,” Zurlo said. 

Earlier this year, DOH held multiple hearings about a change to testing standards. Many in the medical cannabis industry spoke out against the new proposed standards, arguing that the increased costs associated with testing would be passed along to patients. 

Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of cannabis producer Ultra Health, has long argued against standards that he calls arbitrary. Rodriguez told Growing Forward that his company is in favor of high testing standards, but warned that the same standards designed to protect patients can hurt their pocketbooks.  

“We want safe, reliable medicine,” Rodriguez said. “We want it to be protected, we want to be clean, but we also have to do it in a responsible way.”

Ultra Health and a handful of other producers also filed legal action against the state, arguing that the new updated rules are “arbitrary and capricious.”

We also spoke with Ginger Grider and her husband Heath.

Growing Forward: Education

In this week’s episode of Growing Forward, the collaborative podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS, we take a look at education. 

Dispensary employees must reach a certain level of required certification, but what kind of knowledge should patients expect from those who are dispensing their medication? Shanon Jaramillo runs a local cannabis education and staffing agency. She said her goal is to make sure New Mexico implements a new and rigorous education program in order to make sure dispensary employees are giving the best advice to new patients who may have never used cannabis before. Her concern is that the state legalizes recreational-use cannabis without also implementing a rigorous education requirement for medical cannabis dispensary employees.   

“I’m fearful without that educational bridge, I’m fearful that the program will take on the likeness of other medical programs that we’ve seen in other states and that will start to dwindle,” Jaramillo said. 

Part of education for both patients and non-patients  is to make it clear what medical cannabis is designed to do. An often misunderstood issue with medical cannabis is that state law does not recognize it as a substance that can cure diseases or other medical conditions.

Growing Forward: Pulling back the leaves

The fifth episode of Growing Forward, the collaborative cannabis podcast between New Mexico PBS and NM Political Report, was released on Tuesday. 

In the episode, we take a look at the cannabis plant itself and hear about how complex it really is. 

Wylie Atherton with New Mexico cannabis producer Seven Point Farms, told Growing Forward that growing experts like him have devoted much of their time to really understanding the intricacies of cannabis. 

“Discerning cannabis is an art form that’s been relegated to small cloistered groups of people who really, really loved the plant,” Atherton said. 

To the novice cannabis user, terms like sativa and indica may not mean much. Others may know the two terms as a way to tell if a cannabis strain is uplifting or relaxing. But Atherton said flavor or aroma profiles play a significant part in how a strain may affect the user. 

Terpenes are compounds found in many plants that produce aromas and flavors. Atherton used driving a car as an analogy for how terpenes and cannabinoids work together. He said the terpenes are like the driver of the car and the cannabinoids are the horsepower or engine of the car. 

“Say you’re smoking a cannabis extract like a distillate that has upwards of 80 percent THC, but there’s no terpene present.