ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A year after marijuana became legal in New Mexico, Albuquerque now has more pot shops than liquor stores. Driving around the city, it feels like they are in every strip mall, and they just keep coming.

“We were coming down to our very last, you know, of our financial security. And just in time we opened up and it’s, it’s been a blessing,” said Andre Galarza, of his family-owned pot shop.

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The longtime Albuquerque resident opened 505 Farms on Lomas Boulevard in December 2022. The attention to detail outside and inside the store is evident. He told KRQE he and his wife will do anything to see their business succeed because they gave everything to open it. “We literally put our entire retirement, mine and hers. And we are literally what you call all in, like all in,” Galarza explained.

Their mom-and-pop pot shop is a cannabis microbusiness, meaning they can only grow 200 plants. “So, all this flour I’ve grown,” Galarza said, pointing at his products on the shelf. “We only support New Mexico grown, New Mexico extracted, New Mexico business, period,” he added.

Galarza said a lot of their customers are also local — from the surrounding neighborhood — some walk-ups, many repeats. The steady flow of shoppers had him feeling more confident their business will succeed. A high Galarza was riding until he learned a larger company is planning to move into an old car sales lot just two blocks down from him on Lomas Blvd. “Yeah, there’s no sleep. I mean, it’s. Yeah, it’s terrifying,” Galarza said.

The city previously denied that location to ReLeaf Cannabis Company because it would be within 600 feet of an existing pot shop. But, in May, the owner asked the zoning hearing examiner for an exception to the rule. Galarza and several other cannabis business owners on the street said they found out about the hearing last minute. They attended and laid out their concerns.

“There were properties that I passed on that were better than the property I purchased, but they were located next to a dispensary,” said Chris Tapia, owner of Sawmill Cannabis Co. “But I was playing by the rules.”

ReLeaf argued using a vacant building, they would be revitalizing the community. Johnn Osborn explained, “We would be obviously putting back into it – into the community, redeveloping this area. They also employ local folks.”

Two weeks after that hearing, Galarza received notice ReLeaf is cleared to move in. This will be the company’s second location in Albuquerque. Galarza is currently working on an appeal.

The city said it has received twenty other requests for exemptions to the 600-foot rule. Fourteen of those have received the go-ahead so far.

Galarza questions the point of the ordinance he once considered a security blanket. “They have more resources than you have; so, let’s park right next to you and put my resources versus your resources,” he said. “And let’s see who wins.” “If they were to open up next door, we’re pretty much done,” he added. “I mean, a small business such as myself, can’t battle something that big, right? It’s not possible.”

KRQE questioned why this is happening. “Because their math is saying, I think that other store is not doing as well as they could and I can do it better.  And in some cases, we’re seeing that the new stores are right,” explained Pat Davis.

Outside of City Council, Davis is the co-founder of Weeds Cannabis Consulting Service. With that role and having been involved in the industry for years, KRQE sat down with him to understand the status of what can only be described as a saturated recreational cannabis industry.

“The number of stores, the number of licenses statewide, has far exceeded even the most optimistic projections we had when we were looking at what we thought this might be before the law passed,” Davis said.

Through a public records request, KRQE obtained the locations of every approved retail license located in the city. Approvals began in February 2022 and requests are still being submitted more than a year later. As of April 2023, one year into legalization, the city has said yes to 186 retailers. A third of those were approved within the last six months. Albuquerque has just 146 liquor stores.

Cannabis locations by approval date. Map files from UNM RGIS, MRCOG.

“Albuquerque has about two, two and a half times more stores per capita than the market is probably going to allow,” Davis said. “And that probably means that next year we’re going to see roughly a third of these stores probably won’t be in business or never opened in the first place. And another third of that two years from now.” That would mean by next spring dozens of stores closing in Albuquerque, and others that just couldn’t open. Because Davis said while it’s easy to get a $2,500 retail license, the regulations and other costs can be a challenge.

“Some of those folks that got in early, the first ones on the best locations in town, they’re doing great,” Davis said. “They have lines around the store when they open in the morning, they’re open late and you see their big social media presence. They’re doing great, but there aren’t a lot of great addresses anymore.” Davis explained that’s another reason why the city is receiving requests to move within 600 feet of an established retailer. He believes for the smaller stores to avoid getting cannibalized, they need to team up.

Another option is attracting customers in a different way.

The Amestoy Brothers who own Enchanted Botanicals LLC did just that. For the last 18 months, Pierre and Adam worked with the city to receive approval to open a cannabis consumption lounge inside their Central Avenue location in Nob Hill.

“Here’s some of the selection of our product line. So, there’ll be an attendant here being able to serve people, either their concentrates or their edibles,” Pierre Amestoy said, standing at the bar inside the lounge. The lounge also includes a private room and booths with individual rolling trays.  

“It’s not just going to be somewhere to come get high, right?” Amestoy explained. “We’re going to have classes weekly. You know, we’re going to be doing yoga. We’re going to be doing movie nights… “I think there’s a lot of different ways that you would be able to enjoy this space.”

The brothers were the first to get their retail location approved by the city. They purchased it a year before cannabis became legal and built the consumption lounge into the original design. The two believe this is where the industry is headed. Enchanted Botanicals is one of six retailers that has received the city’s approval to allow for cannabis consumption on-site.

Besides the zoning hearing examiner’s approval, the Amestoys needed to get their neighborhood on board, too. Part of that process included installing an HVAC system that sanitizes the air so the typical cannabis smell will not exist in or outside the building, having a security guard on duty 24-7, and training employees to prevent overconsumption.

“Because we’ve really completed the supply chain and protected what we’ve built, it would be really, really hard to take us out,” Amestoy said.