SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – As one of the state’s newest industries, you might expect that cannabis businesses and the regulators surrounding them are bound to hit a rough patch or two as things roll out. More than one hundred retailers have now opened shops statewide, and meanwhile, the state’s regulating body is still navigating the relatively new state law.
With that in mind, KRQE News 13 sought to find out if anyone is complaining about the industry. And if they are, what is it that they’re complaining about? A recent public records request sheds light on some of those complaints, some of which are directed at cannabis businesses, not regulators.
As the state’s sole issuer of cannabis business licenses and the key regulatory body for the industry, the Cannabis Control Division (CCD) has been at the center of many cannabis discussions. And despite some criticism by would-be cannabis retailers about the licensing process, the division has apparently only received a handful of official complaints over the last year.
The CCD was created in April 2021, with the legalization of recreational cannabis in New Mexico. It was set up as a new branch within the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department, which oversees everything from alcohol sales to construction.
Tasked with industry rulemaking, issuing sales and production licenses, and working to “promote and encourage full participation in the cannabis industry,” the CCD has had its hands full for the last year. KRQE News 13 previously reported that limited resources and staffing have meant that some people applying to work in the industry were in extended periods of limbo. Others have said they’ve had a great experience working with the CCD.
After contacting dozens of license applicants, KRQE News 13 heard from applicants both complaining about the CCD and praising it. But despite all of the informal complaints, the CCD has only received around two dozen formal complaints since it was created.
To find out what people are complaining about, KRQE News 13 submitted a public records request for every complaint the CCD has received from its start, up through April 18, 2022. Here’s what we found.
Allegations of improper sales
Some of the formal complaints boil down to allegations against cannabis license holders — dispensaries, manufacturers, etc. These complaints allege that some retailers are not following the state’s cannabis laws and rules.
For example, one complaint alleges that someone was manufacturing cannabis-infused Rice Krispies and selling them without a license. Another complainant says that some of the products in one cannabis shop “don’t even look legit.”
In another complaint, someone alleged that there was no labeling on pre-rolled joints being sold at a dispensary. The CCD followed up in six days and the retailer is now in compliance, records show.
Customers say they’re being charged cannabis tax on medical products
Some of the formal complaints allege that certain cannabis retailers are charging medical patients tax on their purchases. State law says that shouldn’t be happening.
According to the Cannabis Regulation Act, any medical cannabis products sold to a qualified patient is exempt from the state’s cannabis excise tax. As of April 2022, more than 134,000 people are enrolled as medical cannabis patients, according to the state’s Department of Health.
To ensure that those patients have access to cannabis, the state also requires that cannabis retailers reserve a portion of their inventory for medical use. Retailers are required to “make reasonable efforts” to sell 25% of their monthly sales to medical patients.
Break-ins at retail shops
Several of the formal complaints are reports of burglaries at cannabis shops. One complaint alleges that criminals cut power to one cannabis shop, broke in, and stole hundreds of products before police arrived.
Before cannabis was legalized in New Mexico, some people predicted a rise in crime from the new industry. KRQE News 13 explored the issue in part by speaking to now-former Douglas County, Colorado District Attorney George Brauchler. And the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has said they’re aware cannabis stores could be targets for theft.
“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, previously told 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.”
The CCD requires cannabis retailers to have security measures to make sure cannabis doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. All retailers are required to have an alarm system and digital video surveillance, among other requirements.
Concern for kids
A few of the formal complaints allege that cannabis products have fallen into the hands of people under the age of 18.
One complaint by a parent states that they found a container of edibles while cleaning their 16-year-old’s room. Another complaint by a parent alleges that a 13-year-old had cannabis.
As of May 18, the CCD was still looking into some of these issues. For example, the CCD contacted the parent of the 13-year-old, but was waiting for more information from the parent to decide how to handle the complaint.
One complaint alleges that an individual has 200 plants without the proper license from CCD. As per state law, individuals without licenses from the CCD can grow up to six mature plants.
Records show that the CCD tried twice to contact the person who made the complaint. They were unable to contact them, so they weren’t able to investigate further.
How CCD handles complaints
The CCD takes complaints on their website. After receiving a complaint, it’s reviewed to make sure it addresses a topic the CCD has regulatory authority for, according to Bernice Geiger, the public information officer and marketing director for the Regulation and Licensing Department.
“CCD takes complaints seriously,” Geiger told KRQE News 13 in an email. “It is important to understand that the Division only has authority over businesses licensed by the division.”
So, if the complaint is regarding a licensee or something else within the CCD’s scope, it gets investigated. And if it’s a valid complaint against a cannabis retailer or other license holder, they are given a notice and five days to let the CCD know how they’re going to fix the problem. Finally, the CCD will follow up with the licensee to make sure they follow through, according to Geiger.
But there are some complaints the CCD can’t tackle.
“We are not a law enforcement agency and do not have enforcement authority over criminal activities of the illicit market,” Geiger says. “Likewise, the CCD does not have jurisdiction or authority concerning issues such as odors coming from cannabis production or processing facilities, local code violations, complaints against personal cultivation and consumption, etc.”