NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – You’re starting to see them pop up across New Mexico and they can’t even open yet. More than a hundred applications are in — some already approved — to turn established medical marijuana shops, smoke shops, an old strip club and plenty of other closed businesses into recreational cannabis shops. 

The Cannabis Control Division received the first retail applications on Monday, December 6, 2021.  Entrepreneurs can open their doors on April 1, 2022, with an approved license.

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“There’s no limit to the amount of licenses that can be issued as long as they’re able to meet the law in the Cannabis Regulation Act and the rules and requirements set forth by the Division and the Department,” explained Victor Reyes, Deputy Superintendent of the Regulation & Licensing Department. 

No limit means the Cannabis Control Division can approve countless retail licenses and New Mexicans could theoretically see pot shops on every street across the state. “We have so much interest in our in, in folks who are applying to be part of this industry,” Reyes said. “And that’s because it’s an industry like none other.”

Going off the state’s website, KRQE plotted every address in Albuquerque where retail license applicants are hoping to open a shop come April 1. So far, there are more than 80 of them. 

(Map above shows addresses in Albuquerque where retail license applicants are hoping to open a shop.)

While a lot of people see the new industry as a positive for New Mexico, not everyone wants it moving in next door. “I’m not really for the recreational,” Laurel Kehoe said. And, she has her reasons. Her family’s optical clinic butts up to a shopping center on Montgomery that used to house a medical marijuana shop. She said it had its problems. 

“They kept getting broken into,” Kehoe explained. “They also got held at gunpoint.” That prompted the Kehoes to take extra security measures for their employees and patients. She said they are always armed and even installed a gate around the perimeter. 

The shop closed a while back, but now there’s an application in to turn the vacant business into a recreational cannabis shop. Kehoe said they’re “not thrilled,” but she’s aware they don’t have a choice. “We have no control over what’s going to go in next to us,” she commented. 

The Cannabis Regulation Act gives every local government the discretion to choose where a pot shop can be located. Specific to Albuquerque, recreational cannabis can’t be sold within 300 feet of a school or daycare and shops have to be 600 feet apart from each other. 

“We don’t want concentrations of certain businesses in certain places,” Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton said. He explained the City has that rule for liquor stores too. But looking through applications, KRQE found several addresses close together which may violate that rule. Benton just introduced a resolution to Council clarifying that the first applicant gets dibs.

“So, that is where the City would come in and the City would keep track of the applications and the date that they were approved,” he explained. “Not the date they were applied for, but the date they were approved.” According to the state, it’s the applicant’s job to make sure they’re compliant with the home city’s rules.

Deputy Superintendent Reyes said his staff inside the Regulation and Licensing Department is helping each prospective business owner navigate the extensive application. They’re hosting monthly webinars and making themselves available for any and all questions. “That’s very important to ensuring that every single new Mexican that wants entry into this industry has that opportunity,” Reyes said. 

But, he said, the work is also overwhelming the office. As of February 11, the Cannabis Control Division’s received 404 applications for the six types of licenses that cover everything from growing to selling. Specific to retail, 138 have applied for a license. The CCD’s approved 20 of those. 

The Deputy Superintendent is expecting many more. “I think the market is going to do a really good job of helping us right size that,” he explained. “But I think that right now, the demand is high and it should be high.”

The demand has Reyes’s nine-person staff frequently working overtime. He’s hoping to more than double the team or, he said, the process of reviewing licenses is expected to slow down. So some of the applicants awaiting approval may not be opening their doors to sell recreational cannabis on April 1.

The CCD’s job continues after shops open. Besides continuing to review licenses, Reyes said compliance officers will be checking in and inspecting retail shops to confirm license holders are following the rules. He’s hoping to hire an additional 10 compliance officers soon, too. “Those inspectors are really key to producing and ensuring that we do have a thriving market that protects health and safety, and that ensures that we don’t see an illicit market,” Reyes said.

New Mexico Cannabis Law