ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – With the launch of retail sales of cannabis today, some eager local shops are already welcoming customers. But many would-be retailers aren’t ready for the big day. So who’s poised to open shop immediately? And which retail outlets are going to wait for another few weeks or months?
To see how many businesses are on track for opening day, KRQE News 13 requested a count of all the retail license applications from the Cannabis Control Division (CCD). The data from March 31 shows that 119 new cannabis retail applications have been approved. But just because they’ve got their paperwork in with state regulators doesn’t mean every shop is ready to start sales on April 1.
Of the 211 companies that submitted applications for a cannabis retailer license across the state so far, about half have been approved, according to the CCD. A few dozen still need some work to be considered complete.
46 cannabis retail license applications remain under review or will soon be under review by the CCD. And just four retail applications have been denied. In Albuquerque, more than 60 retail locations have been approved, according to the city’s interactive map, which doesn’t show which are actually open for business.
As for how many retailers will open for cannabis sales in New Mexico on April 1? That remains unclear. According to a spokeswoman for the CCD, New Mexico’s cannabis regulators aren’t tracking when stores are planning to begin sales, but instead focus on license approval status.
To get approval, the paperwork alone can take some time. After all, the state requires a multitude of documents in order to obtain a license. For example, retail applicants have to submit a diagram of the planned premises where they intend to sell products, a social and economic equity plan, background checks, and proof of age documentation for applicants filing for the license. Then, many applicants also have to go through local paperwork. Albuquerque, for example, requires additional certification.
Getting through all of this has been a key challenge for most retailers — and a key reason why not every licensed retail cannabis facility will be open on 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 in Albuquerque. But, “we will not have retail [yet], because it took so long to get approved by the state.”
Some businesses, of course, have worked through the paperwork and are ready to open. Many of the retailers ready for the first day of sales are the ones with connections and prior cannabis industry experience.
“We had a lot of connections, so we used those connections,” explains Rodrigo Ramirez, with Canvas Organics in Albuquerque. And they even hired a cannabis consultant.
The consultant “helped us procure or, at least meet, some of the people [in the industry].” On top of that, Ramirez himself has been in the CBD business for a while, and says that experience is a key to success.
Canvas Organics says they’re planning on opening today (Friday, April 1) at 10:00 a.m. But meeting that deadline has been a frenzied race, even with the experience and expertise helping them along.
“Geez, we got so much [going on],” Ramirez says. “Everyone is working on top of each other right now,” he told KRQE News 13 on the day before opening.
Some retailers even planned a release the moment the date rolled over to April 1. Glenn Trahan with Cloud 9 Zendustries in Albuquerque was hoping to have a midnight release. But just the day before, Trahan’s consultant advised them that local regulations wouldn’t let them sell in the middle of the night. So, they’re waiting until 8:00 a.m. instead.
And while many retailers were looking forward to being ready for first-day sales, some are taking a different approach. Christian Truelove, who’s opening HoneyBudz in Clayton, New Mexico, says they are taking their time to make sure they have everything right before opening.
“We have a very specific strategy of how we’re going to be opening up our market into New Mexico, Truelove says. “We’re big fans of quality over quantity.”
As a result, they plan on waiting to open. HoneyBudz says it’s holding out for a “4/20” launch on April 20.
As almost anyone in the industry will tell you, the legalization and roll-out of New Mexico cannabis has been a long time in the making.
“We will at last — after 50 years of the war on drugs — begin dealing more realistically with cannabis,” state Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino told KRQE News 13 last year when the Governor signed the Cannabis Regulation Act into law. He and others had tried various times to get cannabis legalized years ago.
And finally in 2021, “it passed, not easily, but it passed. And so, we at least have a fighting chance now to test out whether or not New Mexico’s regulatory framework is a better way of controlling access to cannabis than simply to make it illegal,” Ortiz y Pino said.
Designing that regulatory framework — and eventually reviewing and approving licenses — fell to the CCD, a cannabis-focused division within the Regulation and Licensing Department. But the relatively new governmental division — with a relatively small number of staff — has had its own challenges serving the entire state. Still, the CCD says it’s working hard to make sure applicants can enter the industry.
“We have only had 11 people to handle all enforcement, licensing, all legal, all everything,” says Heather Brewer, spokesperson for CCD. “That is not an excuse, because New Mexicans deserve the highest level of service from their state government every day, all the time. It is, though, an explanation. This is a new industry. It is a new system. And we really do ask for applicant patience.”
Given all the complexities of the new industry, it’s no surprise that not everyone is opening on April 1.
“We actually think that more stores will open in the coming months than on April 1,” Kristen Thomson, the director of the CCD, told KRQE News 13. “And that is something that we are really looking forward to in the future.”