New Mexico launches cannabis sales within reach of Texans

“When they legalized it here, I didn’t need my guy anymore,” said Devin Killloy, a painter and handyman in white-spotted clothes.

Antonio Rodriguez, a 38-year-old grocer, said he was content to pay taxes on recreational cannabis: “I want everyone to be legit, even if it’s more expensive.”

Aspiring marijuana growers are bidding for water rights and learning how to grow crops, while experienced medical cannabis growers are ramping up production and adding retail showrooms.

New Mexico is among 18 states, including neighboring Arizona and Colorado and the entire West Coast, that have legalized recreational cannabis, with implications for cannabis tourism, and conservative Texas, where legalization efforts have made little progress.

A bill to decriminalize marijuana won approval in the US House on Friday, but is unlikely to pass the Senate. Republicans said potent pot harms users and called marijuana a gateway to opioids and other dangerous substances.

In Clovis, a New Mexico high plains town of about 40,000 people less than 10 miles from Texas, Earl Henson and two business partners pooled their resources to convert an old gun store and shot at a cannabis store and complementary grow room at a main street address.

“I can’t explain how happy I am,” said Henson, a former real estate agent who says his affection for marijuana was a burden. He is harvesting the first crop for a store called Earl and Tom’s. “These cities that are close to Texas, for the next two years, it’s going to change their economies.”

In the state capital of Santa Fe, marijuana is on sale across from the city’s new visitor center, in a block lined with galleries, clothing stores and restaurants.

LeRoy Roybal, manager of a downtown Santa Fe store for the Minerva Canna chain of growers and dispensaries, hopes the pot stigma will quickly fade.

“We’re freeing a lot of hearts and souls,” he said. “It’s going to be like having a cup of coffee at Starbucks.”

Supporting lawmakers hope legalization will eliminate black markets, boost employment and provide stable new sources of government revenue.

Consumers will initially rely heavily on 35 legacy marijuana companies that have taken root over the past 15 years. Regulators have issued more than 230 new marijuana business licenses to growers, retailers, and facilities manufacturing extracts and edibles.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who visited a busy store on Friday, said the legalization meets popular demands and creates opportunities for small businesses.

“That’s what consumers want,” said Lujan Grisham, a candidate for re-election in November. “We have the potential for 11,000 additional workers, jobs in places where young people can work and stay, like Torrance County and Texico and Tucumcari and Raton.”

Local governments cannot completely ban cannabis businesses, although they can restrict locations and times. Public consumption is subject to a $50 fine.

Business licenses for cafes or cannabis lounges have yet to be applied for – leaving people to indulge at home or at designated hotels, casinos and cigar shops.

In Sunland Park, flanked by the Rio Grande and the US-Mexico border fences, Mayor Javier Perea said marijuana retailers can set up shop in the small town of just 17,000 people. He said about 30 companies had applied for permission, betting on tourism near El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez in Mexico.

Perea hopes the industry will create economic opportunities and tax revenues to strengthen city services. Local governments will receive a minority share of the state’s 12% excise tax on recreational marijuana sales, as well as a share of additional sales taxes. Medical cannabis is tax exempt.

“The only thing we’re going to struggle with is that we’re going to run out of buildings” for new businesses, he said.

Legal experts warn that New Mexico customers who return home to other states risk criminal penalties, arrest and incarceration, including in Texas.

Paul Armento, deputy director of drug policy group NORML, said Texas was a top state for marijuana possession arrests and having concentrates there is punishable by two years in prison. jail and a $10,000 fine.

Possession, use or sale of marijuana also remains illegal at the federal level – a standard that applies to large swathes of federal lands and the Indian country of New Mexico.

New Mexico’s cannabis industry, still dependent on cash to avoid breaking federal law, has access to banking services through an alternative certification system for credit unions and banks backed by attorneys general States.

The state also plans to take out $5 million in low-interest loans to small cannabis businesses that don’t have access to traditional credit.

Lawmakers have sought to reverse the harms of marijuana criminalization on minority communities and poor households by automatically dismissing or expunging previous cannabis-related convictions, encouraging social and economic diversity in employment, and reducing financial barriers for start-ups.

The state’s micro-enterprise license to grow up to 200 plants for a fixed fee of $1,000 attracts new commercial growers, such as recently retired US sailor Kyle Masterson and his wife Ivy, a veteran of the Hispanic military with business consulting experience. They raise three children and turn to cannabis in mid-life.

The Mastersons, residents of suburban Rio Rancho, searched more remote areas for an affordable building to grow high-quality marijuana under lights, settling in a vacant former movie theater in little Cuba, a village near the Jemez Mountains.

“It was fine, it was good and out of a vision of what we could do,” said Kyle Masterson, who served in four combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. “We are used to working in austere environments without too many guidelines and doing our best.”


Attanasio is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow him on Twitter.

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