A state agency tasked with overseeing New Mexico’s new market for legal cannabis sales is ready to launch the industry on April 1, its top official said.
Yes, it’s April Fool’s Day.
But the booming retail cannabis business for adults 21 and older is no joke. Hundreds of businesses are gearing up for the day by setting up shops and stocking up. There will likely be streamers and balloons.
“We really expect this first day of activity to be filled with excitement,” said Kristen Thomson, director of the Cannabis Control Division of the New Mexico Department of Regulation and Licensing.
Members of his agency, which plans to double the number of its employees from 12 to 24 to provide better support for cannabis businesses and close oversight, will hit the streets on April 1.
Thomson declined to say where its employees will be or what they will be doing; she jokingly called it a “trade secret”.
While some business owners, advocates and potential cannabis store customers have expressed concerns about supplies holding up in the early days of legal sales, Thomson said she’s confident cannabis growers have enough products to supply stores.
“We’re not worried about the lack of product,” she said. “As with any new gadget or restaurant or anything that opens, some product may be missing, but we don’t anticipate a massive statewide shortage of product on opening day.”
It remains unclear how many stores will open on April 1 for recreational cannabis sales, in addition to medical cannabis retailers, some of which have been operating for years. The state has approved more than 225 cannabis retail licenses, including numerous integrated licenses for businesses that produce, manufacture, deliver, and sell cannabis products.
Thomson said some of these licenses cover more than one commercial site.
But, she added, many retailers could still follow local zoning guidelines and wait for a municipality’s approval to open.
It has been legal to use cannabis products in the state since late June, but many consumers are also looking forward to the day when they can walk into a local store and buy products legally.
Emily Kaltenbach, senior state director of the nonprofit National Drug Policy Alliance, which helped draft legislation legalizing adult cannabis sales, said state officials have done ” a lot of work” to prepare for a successful launch on April 1st, but there is still some uncertainty.
Although state law requires retailers to set aside 20% of their products for patients under the state’s medical cannabis program, she said patients may be ‘more concerned’ about the lack of supplies. than recreational users. Nearly 132,000 New Mexicans had signed up for the medical cannabis program as of February, according to the state Department of Health.
Retailers are doing their best to prepare. Josh Foley, who runs a Pecos Valley Production cannabis store in Albuquerque, said his company is trying to stock up to $500,000 worth of product “to get us through the first two months” of retail.
He thinks a shortage could occur within a few months.
Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health, the state’s largest medical cannabis operation, predicted big trouble down the line. He noted that the state caps plant production at 20,000 per grower while allowing unlimited retail licenses.
Within a year, he said, “we’ll probably have to reduce up to 100 locations, and there will be a lot of small businesses that will be hit very hard.”
Arizona, with a population of more than 7 million — more than three times that of New Mexico — began retail sales in January 2021 with just about 75 dispensaries. Recent media reports indicate that Arizona made approximately $1.4 billion in industry-related revenue in less than a year.
Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, disagrees with Rodriguez’s concerns. Allowing anyone eligible to open a cannabis store ensures fairness for those who wish to purchase what should be a major economic and employment driver in the state, he said: “This is the American dream.”
Lewinger and Kaltenbach expressed optimism about the state’s ability to work out the “hiccups and bumps” over time, as other states did after cannabis legalization.
As for April Foley, Foley is preparing for, well, anything to happen.
When asked how many customers he was expecting that day, he replied, “I have no idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if 300 people came that day. I wouldn’t be surprised if 50 people came that day.
“It’s kind of a toss-up,” he added. “But we are ready.”