On the first day of recreational cannabis use legalized in New Mexico, the division overseeing the new industry held a regulatory hearing.
During the hearing, held by the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department and its Cannabis Control Division, a long list of stakeholders shared their concerns about water conservation, racial and social justice, and transparency. But the public comment contained almost as many questions for the department as there were concerns.
With New Mexico grappling with yet another drought this year, many speaking at the meeting raised concerns that large cannabis companies would exacerbate the state’s ongoing water problems.
Alejandría Lyons, environmental justice organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project, said she and the organization wanted more supervision of water use to protect generation-old family farms across the state.
“We worry about our acequias, we worry about our farmers who have already been told not to water their fields and to break their fields,” said Lyons. “And more importantly, we are very concerned about oversight. The office of the state engineer is already busy and we fear that we will need higher regulation, especially in a drought year like the one we are currently experiencing, in order to prevent illegal water use. “
Jaimie Park, the policy coordinator and attorney for the Acequia Association in New Mexico, said that while the Cannabis Regulation Act includes water requirements such as proof of access to water or water rights, she and the association have conscious rules for legal access to water.
“It is really important that the regulatory language reflects the legal language so that this important water protection mandate is implemented legally and meaningfully through this draft regulation,” said Park.
Park added that she and the association have submitted written comments suggesting that RLD and the Cannabis Control Division introduce strict water reporting requirements for cannabis growers.
One of the main selling points during the particular legislative period that led to the new cannabis regulatory law coming into effect was social justice and equity. Proponents of the bill argued that legalization should also include a minimally restrictive way for New Mexicans to enter the industry. One provision of the law is aid to micro cannabis businesses, but under the proposed rules, micro businesses could be required to pay the state up to $ 2,500 a year. And all applicants must demonstrate that they have a physical space for their business before being licensed by RLD.
Patiricia Monaghan, a cannabis industry attorney who spoke at the hearing, said she had represented a number of medical cannabis manufacturers over the years and that they never had to sign a lease or buy a building before getting a license .
“It is difficult, or likely an insurmountable barrier to entry, to require documentation of ownership of property to be used before the license is approved,” Monaghan said. “For the small business owner, the small business owner who wants to get started, that’s just too cumbersome. You can’t ask them all of this before they even get a license, before they even start their business. ”
Charles Jones, who identified himself as a medical cannabis patient qualified to grow his own cannabis and operator of a hemp farm in northern New Mexico, also said he was concerned about the department’s proposed requirement to have a physical room before then he is an A. is applying for a cannabis business license. He said it was already difficult to find space in Albuquerque for a small grower or retail cannabis operation.
“It’s pretty much a war in Albuquerque right now, every storage space is being devoured by whoever can,” Jones said. “And that before someone has already been approved or one of these applications. Before these applications even open, the entire storage area becomes smaller. “
Many of those who spoke at the hearing had no comments but a list of questions, namely when RLD could publish applications for industry hopefuls. All questions were put on record and the hearing officer said RLD would process them and get them answered.
The next steps in promulgating the rules include a review of the hearing, comments, and the exhibits presented by RLD Superintendent Linda Trujillo. In the event Trujillo and RLD decide to change the proposed rules, a second hearing may be required, depending on whether the changes are outside the scope of the hearing. Unless a second hearing is required, the rules will be filed and go into effect 30 days later.
Although RLD has a statutory deadline for accepting applications and establishing an advisory committee of September 1 of this year, there is no specific deadline for promulgating the rule. However, a spokesman for RLD said the department is aiming to have the rules in place by September 1st.
The department must also start issuing cannabis business licenses no later than January 1, 2022, and by law, retail sales of cannabis must start no later than April 1, 2022.