A state agency tasked with overseeing New Mexico’s new market for legal cannabis sales is ready for the industry to launch April 1, its top official said.
Yes, that’s April Fool’s Day.
But the burgeoning cannabis retail business for adults 21 and over is no joke. Hundreds of businesses are preparing for the day by setting up shops and stocking up on supplies. There are likely to be banners and balloons.
“We really expect that first day of business to be filled with excitement,” said Kristen Thomson, director of the Cannabis Control Division of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department.
Members of her agency, which is planning to double the number of its employees from 12 to 24 to provide better support for cannabis businesses and close oversight, will be out on the streets April 1.
Thomson declined to say where her staffers will be or what they will be doing; she jokingly called it a “trade secret.”
While some business owners, advocates and prospective patrons of cannabis stores have expressed concerns about whether supplies will hold out in the early days of legal sales, Thomson said she is certain cannabis growers have enough products to keep stores stocked.
“We do not have concerns about lack of product,” she said. “As with any new gadget or restaurant or something opening, some products may come up short, but we do not anticipate a massive statewide shortage of product on opening day.”
It’s still unclear how many shops will newly open April 1 to recreational cannabis sales, in addition to medical cannabis retailers, some of which have operated for years. The state has approved more than 225 cannabis retail licenses, including many integrated licenses for businesses that produce, manufacture, deliver and sell cannabis products.
Thomson said some of those licenses cover more than one business site.
But, she added, many retailers might still be navigating local zoning guidelines and awaiting approval from a municipality to open.
It has been legal to use cannabis products in the state since late June, but many consumers also have been eager for the day when they can walk into a local shop and legally purchase products.
Emily Kaltenbach, senior state director of the national nonprofit 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 April 1, but there is still some uncertainty.
Although state law requires retailers to set aside 20 percent of their products for patients in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, she said patients may have “more of a concern” about running short on supplies than recreational users. Almost 132,000 New Mexicans had enrolled in the Medical Cannabis Program as of February, according to the state Department of Health.
Retailers are doing their best to prepare. Josh Foley, who manages a Pecos Valley Production cannabis store in Albuquerque, said his company is trying to store up $500,000 worth of products “to get us through the first couple of months” of retail sales.
He thinks a shortage might 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 problems down the line. He noted the state capped plant production at 20,000 per grower while allowing an unlimited number of retail licenses.
Within a year, he said, “We will probably need to pare back as many as 100 locations, and there will be a lot of small business that will be hurt very badly.”
Arizona, with a population of over 7 million — more than three times that of New Mexico’s — started retail sales in January 2021 with only about 75 dispensaries. Recent media reports indicate Arizona took in about $1.4 billion in revenue tied to the industry in less than a year.
Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, does not share Rodriguez’s concerns. Allowing anyone who is eligible to open a cannabis store ensures equity for those wanting to buy into what is expected to be a major economic and job driver in the state, he said: “That’s the American Dream.”
Lewinger and Kaltenbach expressed optimism about the state’s ability work out the “hiccups and bumps” over time, as other states have done following cannabis legalization.
As for April 1, Foley is gearing up for, well, anything to happen.
Asked how many customers he expected that day, he said, “I have no idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if 300 people came in that day. I wouldn’t be surprised if 50 people came in that day.
“It’s kind of a coin toss,” he added. “But we’re ready.”