ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Retail sales of cannabis are set to begin in just a few days. Do you know exactly what’s legal, what’s safe, and what’s a myth? To address some common myths and questions about cannabis in New Mexico, KRQE News 13 spoke with law enforcement and state regulators. Here are some key things you need to know before April 1.
Can you buy cannabis with EBT or food stamps?
Simply put, “the answer is no,” says Kristen Thomson, the director of the state’s Cannabis Control Division (CCD). “Cannabis is not considered a food,” she explains, and that includes things like pot brownies. Because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, cannabis and foods with cannabis additives don’t comply with federal assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or with Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT). “Also, it does not comply with any of the state programs,” she adds.
Some people might try to get away with food stamp fraud and look for loopholes. Regulation of that is up to the federal and state programs that administer assistance, not necessarily the CCD, Thomson says. But, Thompson adds that the CCD is willing to work with other agencies if loopholes become an issue.
Can you smoke cannabis at parks?
To answer this, it’s important to remember that there are different kinds of parks — local parks, state parks, and national parks. Because national parks are run by the federal government, possession and use is prohibited.
At Albuquerque’s city-operated parks, smoking cannabis is not allowed, according to Drew Ayotte, a spokesperson for the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Albuquerque City Council recently discussed proposed changes to the Albuquerque Clean Indoor Air Ordinance, which sets rules for tobacco smoking. The proposed changes would explicitly add cannabis to the list of regulated products. And while the ordinance is called the “indoor” ordinance, the proposed changes would also expand the definition of a public place where cannabis smoking is prohibited to include parks, streets, and sidewalks.
City Council ultimately voted to postpone their decision on those changes. Councilor Brook Bassan explained that she wanted to wait and see how cannabis sales rolled out before changing city ordinances.
“I think that it would be behoove us to . . . see what happens as this comes out in the next couple of weeks,” she explained in a March 21 meeting. “And then we can revisit this as a council.”
Even without an updated city ordinance, state law is still clear: smoking cannabis in public is prohibited, except in designated cannabis consumption areas. So smoking in city parks is not permitted.
And then there are state parks. There are no designated cannabis smoking areas at any New Mexico State Parks, according to Manuel Overby, the bureau chief of Law Enforcement & Boating Safety for the state parks.
But, it might surprise you to know that you can smoke within your tent at a state park! “A tent or camper is viewed as an extension of a home, thereby making it allowable within a tent or camper, but not outside of the tent or camper, which is considered public space,” Overby told KRQE News 13 in a statement.
Additionally, Overby says smokeless cannabis products and edibles can be consumed if done so lawfully and according to the Cannabis Control Act. But if visitors use cannabis unlawfully, they can expect to face criminal or civil fines, Overby adds. That, of course, includes illegal activities such as underage use and illegal sales of cannabis.
Do police officers know when you’re driving high?
Just like with alcohol, if cannabis intoxication is affecting your driving, yes.
“We’re going to be looking for impaired drivers under any substance, just like we are now,” says New Mexico State Police Captain Micah Doering. “Whether it’s alcohol, cannabis, or any of the other myriad of substances that, when put into the human body, renders that person incapable of operating safely, that’s where our focus will continue to be and nothing has changed in the enforcement aspect of that.”
Just like with alcohol, police officers can pull people over if they are driving erratically or unsafely. But so far, the legalization of recreational cannabis has not prompted law enforcement to switch to drastically new types of tests to detect cannabis impairment. Doering says that they’ll likely administer the standard field sobriety tests, which don’t necessarily look for a specific drug, but rather help officers determine how incapacitated someone is.
“The best tools at our disposal are the standard field sobriety tests that we give for all substances,” he says. “One of the misconceptions is they only work for alcohol. That is incorrect. They are very good at sorting out the impaired driver versus the nonimpaired driver.”
To assess cannabis impairment, police officers use the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program, a nationwide standard for checking if someone is impaired by a substance other than alcohol. Officers trained under the specialty program are usually called Drug Recognition Experts (DREs.) When evaluating if a driver is impaired, DRE officers go through a multi-part assessment to look for impairment. If a person is classified as impaired, they might be taken to jail.
Doering says New Mexico State Police has multiple officers trained as DREs. “We help the other agencies throughout the state as well. With that collaboration, we have some pretty good coverage. We’re seeking to increase that coverage. Matter of fact, next month is our class, our annual class, where we’re going to be sending through 24 more [DRE] students.”
In 2021, the state’s DRE program reported there were a total of 76 certified DRE officers in New Mexico, representing 26 different police agencies and seven of the 12 NMSP districts.
Can police really tell if you’re high? Like, with a blood test?
While breath and blood tests are widely accepted for determining impairment from alcohol, there’s a wide range of opinion and research on using chemical tests for cannabis. State Police Captain Micah Doering clarifies that they can use blood tests, but there are some limitations to those tests.
“If we do draw blood . . . we don’t know the results of that immediately,” Doering says. “And just the number on the blood [test] results is insufficient evidence, legally and scientifically, to prove or disprove impairment.”
But, the tests can be used, as one piece of evidence, to help confirm or deny the officer’s opinion that a person may be impaired. It’s “one piece of the puzzle, with the [DRE] evaluation, with the documentation and hopefully video from the arresting officer, any driving behavior — you start putting all the pieces together to what the attorneys call ‘totality of the circumstances.'” In other words: “A cake is not made with flour alone. You’ve got to add a few other ingredients.”
“We simply ask if you choose to consume cannabis, please don’t drive,” Doering says. “A lot of people will think that they are safe to drive. You’re not. Just follow those simple rules. Help us keep you safe. And that will make things easier for everyone involved.”
Is there going to be a shortage of cannabis on April 1?
There has been a fair bit of speculation on whether or not businesses will have enough cannabis come April 1. Kristen Thomson from the Cannabis Control Division acknowledges there might be an initial spike in demand. And some business owners that spoke to KRQE News 13 said they expect products could sell out.
“Just like any new product release or a new restaurant opening, there will always be some lines and shortages of some products,” Thomson says. “I cannot imagine a scenario — nor do we anticipate — a store selling completely out, unless they were only supplying one product.”
“We anticipate that with the demand, there will be initial excitement, and we expect the stabilization within the industry relatively quickly,” she adds. “That is a place we’re hoping to get to rapidly.”
KRQE News 13 previously reported on the numerous challenges would-be producers have to go through to set up shop. Some of the business owners we spoke with last November say they’re still not going to be ready come April 1.
“Right now, we have received our cultivation license, our retail license, and we have reapplied for just the renewal of our manufacturing license. So things are very busy, says Rebecca Montoya from Cranium Extracts, a female-run cannabis business. We are expanding our current manufacturing and our current location. “We will not have our retail, because it took so long to get approved by the state . . . We are hoping to open June 1.”
Michael Sanchez is trying to open the cannabis-focused Electric Café in downtown Albuquerque. He also says he won’t be ready in time for the start of retail sales.
“I’m waiting for my water right to be approved by the state engineer,” he says. “So, I’m waiting to get my production going here at the small farm. But as far as retail, CCD has started to review my retail application. Being that I have a unique situation, where I intend to use the commercial kitchen that I have in there, I believe it’s taking a little bit more review for them to approve.”
Given that some businesses are yet to be fully operational, both Sanchez and Montoya expect shortages in the local industry.
“There’s going to be a plant shortage, and the big producers are going to reap the benefits,” Sanchez predicts. Montoya agrees: “I think the people that will benefit the most, of course, are the larger producers that already have their perpetual harvests. I think that all of the newer producers, not very many of them have had time to even have a first harvest by the time they go through all of the permitting process,” she says. “So when it first starts, I believe that there might be a shortage.”
Will there be a shortage of medical cannabis?
Even before cannabis became legal in New Mexico, lawmakers and experts were concerned that recreational sales of cannabis could outstrip supplies, leaving medical patients without a reliable supply. So, built into state law are protections to ensure that a portion of the cannabis grown in the state is reserved for medical patients.
“We take that priority for the medical patients seriously,” says Thomson from the Cannabis Control Division. “We will be issuing guidance to remind businesses that are currently open that 20% of their product needs to be reserved for [medical] cannabis patients.”
State law allows the Cannabis Control Division to take several additional measures to ensure there isn’t a shortage of cannabis for medical patients. They can, for example, “expeditiously incentivize increased production of cannabis plants to remedy a shortage.”
Will there be drive-thru cannabis sales?
New Mexico used to have drive-up alcohol sales, so why not cannabis?
Back in 1998, New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson signed into law a ban on drive-up alcohol sales. Before then, hundreds of alcohol retailers operated drive-up windows, according to an Associated Press article from the era. But faced with the fact that New Mexico had the highest per capita alcohol-related traffic fatalities, drive-thru sales were banned.
But we’re talking about cannabis, not alcohol. And the CCD says there’s nothing in state law preventing someone from selling cannabis at a drive-thru.
“The Cannabis Regulation Act does not prevent this,” explains Thomson from the CCD. “However, local governments do have the ability to set time, place and manner and do have the authority to restrict drive-throughs if that is what they deem right for their community.”
So far, KRQE News 13 hasn’t seen any retail applications that include plans for a drive-thru. But that doesn’t mean no one will try! If you know of one, let us know. Email Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org
Can you buy alcohol and cannabis at the same place?
No. According to state law, cannabis retailers are not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages.
However, some state lawmakers have raised concern about possible ambiguity in state law surrounding alcohol and cannabis. In the 2022 regular session, lawmakers attempted, but failed to pass legislation (SB 100) that specifically states in law, “cannabis and alcoholic beverages shall not be sold or consumed on the same premises.”
Under current state law, the sale of alcoholic beverages is not permitted on premises licensed for cannabis. However, current state law does not specifically address alcohol consumption as it relates to recreational cannabis-associated businesses.
Do law enforcement and state officials expect cannabis sales to raise crime?
This falls into the realm of speculation. And a lot of people have differing ideas on how this will play out in the coming months.
“I do want to dispel a myth here since that’s what we are doing,” says Thomson from the CCD. “Legal cannabis businesses are much safer than a bank, than a jewelry store.”
And remember, the CCD requires cannabis businesses to follow far more security measures than is required for other businesses. The regulations require security cameras, a 24/7 alarm system, and motion detection lighting.
But the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) says that cannabis stores can still be potential targets: “We can’t predict with certainty whether businesses will be targeted for theft, but we are cognizant that they could be targets,” Rebecca Atkins, an APD spokeswoman, said in a statement to KRQE News 13. “Chief Medina has also heard from police in other jurisdictions who warn about the potential for increased violence related to cash transactions and robberies.”
KRQE News 13 previously explored the warnings that Colorado law enforcement had for New Mexico. Prosecutor George Brauchler, from Colorado, said that cannabis legalization brought a surge in violent crime to Colorado streets. In particular, Brauchler warned of assaults and murders related to illegal cannabis transactions. Illegal, unlicensed grow houses are also a potential problem, according to Colorado lawmakers.
Captain Doering with the state police says they’ve heard similar concerns: “We are aware of those potential issues. We are prepared to address those as they come.”
Are law enforcement agencies preparing to crack down on illegal use?
With all the new rules, and some concerns about public safety, you may be wondering if law enforcement agencies are gearing up to strictly monitor and enforce laws within the industry. While cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, New Mexico State Police says there are no immediate plans for new cannabis-specific enforcement units.
“We want the industry players to be safe. We want the retail partners to be safe. We want the consumers to be safe and we want the remaining public to be safe,” says Doering from the state police. “We don’t believe doom and gloom is going to happen.”
“We anticipate there may be small spikes in the impaired driving side. There will undoubtedly be attempts to burglarize and or rob the establishments,” he says. “We’re not naïve. We understand that this very well could happen and eventually will happen. But no different than any other establishment, they’re just going to be one more addition to our community partner list.”
Doering adds that state police officers probably won’t be overly suspicious of people traveling with packaged cannabis in their car, if it looks like it was legally purchased: “If they’re properly packaged according to the law, and it’s obvious that they came from the dispensary and an individual has a receipt for them, as far as being overly suspicious, no.”
“It’s no different than somebody having a few cases of alcohol,” he says. “We may ask because we’re curious people. And if the answer is reasonable, we’re moving on.”
But while carrying up to two ounces of legally purchased cannabis is unlikely to arouse police suspicion on its own, carrying large amounts could be suspicious. Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace previously told KRQE News 13 that while cannabis is legal for personal use, “trafficking is still a crime.”
Trafficking cannabis is still illegal at the federal level. And while getting caught trafficking cannabis doesn’t always result in prosecution, it’s still enforceable under federal law.
At the state level, it is illegal to traffic — i.e. sell cannabis without a license. Still, New Mexico lawmakers have voiced concerns that enforcement and penalties do not go far enough.