Daniel Gonzales has been a medical cannabis patient in New Mexico for about five years and has been smoking marijuana “since God knows when.”
The 35-year-old San Juan County resident thinks it is high time New Mexico legalized the drug.
He looks forward to Tuesday – the day New Mexico residents 21 and older can legally own, use, and grow recreational cannabis. Under the state’s medical cannabis program, he’s limited to growing four adult plants, while the law, which goes into effect Tuesday, allows any adult to grow six plants – or up to 12 in a household with more than one Adult.
“To me, it’s a great thing – both for the economy and for an adult to be able to make decisions they want to make,” said Gonzales, who is leaving the oil and gas industry where he has worked for 15 years. He plans to take classes and consider moving into the cannabis business in the future.
Legalization of personal cannabis use comes months before a legal industry in the state for the production and sale of recreational cannabis and other products containing THC, the plant’s psychoactive component. It will also continue to be illegal to purchase recreational products in neighboring Colorado and Arizona states and transport them across the border.
The gap between illicit sales and legal use is one of many unsolved problems in the state’s still developing recreational cannabis industry.
Some proponents of cannabis legalization say that many people who want legal marijuana will turn to the black market in the meantime.
“We know that people are currently sourcing and using cannabis illegally, and it will be another 10 months,” said Emily Kaltenbach, state director of the National Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that helped shape recreational cannabis laws.
Other proponents, as well as Linda Trujillo, superintendent of the state’s regulatory and licensing division that will oversee the new cannabis industry, say they don’t necessarily expect black market deals to spike.
Gonzales recommends that cannabis seekers who are not growing themselves wait for licensed stores to open. He said the black market was a “creepy” place for him, where there was no way of knowing where a product came from or what was in it.
“If we’re opening up to a legal market, why not use the law to protect what you do to protect yourself – get your products tested, keep them mold-free, free from pathogens?” He asked. “When it comes to health and legal issues, it’s enough for me to stay out of the black market.”
On Tuesday, when personal use legalization goes into effect, the Cannabis Control Division of the Regulatory and Licensing Division will host a virtual forum to collect public contributions on the first proposed state guidelines for those looking to get into the manufacturing industry .
Before you apply for a license later this year, there are a few challenges you will need to overcome: raising capital, navigating the required water rights, finding a facility, and developing security measures.
The state has not yet published any proposed rules for retailers. It is expected to begin issuing licenses to sell cannabis next year – no later than April 1st.
One pressing question is how the new law will help create justice, as the lawmakers who supported it said.
Legalizing adult use of recreational cannabis has long been advocated by advocates in order to diversify New Mexico’s economy, create jobs, encourage local entrepreneurship, and decriminalize an act that many say is aimed at unfair goals leads to colored people. But the law has been criticized for having too many missing parts to effectively achieve these goals.
“It definitely feels like we’re building the ship while we’re sailing,” said Henry Jake Foreman, program director at Albuquerque-based New Mexico Community Capital, a nonprofit that works for Indigenous American entrepreneurs in the state.
Like Gonzales, he’s eager to grow his own marijuana at home.
“Being self-sufficient on your own is the best way,” he said.
Foreman, who is a Native American, said one of the big problems with the new equity law is that it does not provide financial aid to indigenous New Mexicans, including farmers, who could benefit from the company.
As he worked to raise funds and develop support systems to help local farmers get started, Foreman said his greatest concern was, “We’re going to see a lot of overseas people coming into this area too, and that’s worrying . “
That’s a problem Trujillo said it gave her “sleepless nights” – the idea that small business owners in New Mexico will struggle to raise enough money to get into the cannabis business while larger, more established operations outside of the state gain a foothold .
She fears that potential cannabis operators “will pay off their retirement or family savings or set up their home to make money and they won’t have thought it through”.
Her department will urge lawmakers to create a social justice fund to help New Mexicans get into the business, she added.
State Representative Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, one of the biggest proponents of the new recreational cannabis law, originally proposed adding an equity fund to the law but dropped it as part of a compromise to move the law forward in the legislature.
He said he would table an amendment to the bill at next year’s 30-day session to include funding.
“We really need a fund to help small business owners in New Mexico,” said Martínez.
A similar concern that proponents have voiced is the lack of a provision prioritizing ethnic and racial diversity when approving licenses.
New York, which recently legalized recreational cannabis, approved a provision ensuring that half of all licenses go to “social justice” applicants, a group that includes struggling farmers.
A 2017 poll by Colorado-based news agency Marijuana Business Daily found that 81 percent of cannabis businesses in the country were run by whites. Less than 6 percent were led by Hispanics.
Kaltenbach said one possible solution in New Mexico is for communities that will benefit from gross income taxes on cannabis sales develop their own resources to help local low-income and ethnic minority residents get into business.
That is unlikely to be the case for at least another year, she said, which means larger and more established companies will “have a leg up” in this space in the meantime.
Some in the industry feel that the state’s proposed production rules are encouraging.
Matt Kennicott, a partner with P2M Cannabis Group, a consulting firm in Albuquerque, said they were “a pretty solid set of rules”.
Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, said the rules are “an excellent place to start.”
Gonzales said he is watching the rulemaking process from the sidelines. He’s just happy to know that he can triple his cannabis cultivation from four plants to 12 under the Medical Cannabis Program. He has an adult roommate who allows him to double his household.
He refused to disclose the medical condition that qualifies him as a cannabis patient, but said using the drug helped him escape his “problems”.
He hopes to one day cultivate community crops, if allowed, and become a grow master who can pass his skills on to others. He hasn’t ruled out the possibility of one day becoming a major producer.
But he is putting off a hard and fast step until “we have the final criteria,” he said.
Gonzales said he would share his marijuana with others – not sell it while they wait for state-licensed stores to open.
“There are blessings around us,” he said, “and when this is legalized there will be more.”