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THE STATE OF N.M. CANNABIS: An Interview With CCD’s Heather Brewer

by JOSH LEE. Reprinted with permission from The {Rolling} Paper, courtesy of:

We’re a month (or so) into adult-use/recreational cannabis sales and the good news just keeps rolling in. The state reportedly sold nearly $39.5 million worth of cannabis products in April – $22 million of which came from recreational sales alone. We sat down with Cannabis Control Division (CCD) spokesperson Heather Brewer for an update on the state of the industry.

The Rolling Paper: Was the launch of the adult-use market a success?

BREWER: It was very successful. We had New Mexicans across the state buying high quality New Mexico products from New Mexico businesses. We also saw a solid supply for consumers and patients as well as a seamless technology launch to make sure that customers could always get what they needed and that businesses were always open.

The Rolling Paper: Did it meet all of your expectations?

BREWER: Meets and exceeds expectations. To be honest, going into a situation where you’re transitioning an illicit market into the mainstream economy, you can have all the expectations that you want and still have no idea what’s actually going to happen. Because there are no real data on who uses an illicit market. Who is ready to transition to mainstream? Who will become a new consumer because it is now available in the mainstream economy? All of that is up for grabs.

While the state did a lot of research to try and figure out as much as we could and predict what that was going to look like. It really is an unknown until it actually happens. And what we found out was that the industry in New Mexico is strong. It’s a strong community that has worked together to make sure that every member of the industry has access to the support and resources that they need to be successful. We also learned that the state was really ready for this and excited about it in ways that we just couldn’t have predicted. The turnout has been tremendous.

The Rolling Paper: Before the market opened, there were concerns over medical cannabis shortages. Were there any reported shortages in the first month?

BREWER: Absolutely not. And we are very grateful for that. That is a sign that the industry really knew what it was doing, how to get prepared and how to take care of products and manufacturing in ways that made sense for the market.There have been no reports of shortages and most importantly, patients have always been able to get access to the medicine that they need.

The Rolling Paper: Isn’t that historic? I believe that’s a first.

BREWER: Prior to sales on April 1st, we had been told that every state that has launched legal cannabis sales has experienced a shortage—at least some retailers—within the first few days of opening. We were expecting that. We were preparing for that, because it had been the experience of every other state. We did not have that experience and we are very grateful for that.

The Rolling Paper: Were there any hiccups at all?

BREWER: Well, I will say that as a person who specializes in crisis communications, the only hiccup was that there was no crisis. People have been reporting nothing but good news from the time that stores open on April 1 through today and hopefully into the future. No, there really haven’t been any hiccups. Truly, it was a really, really wonderful launch that New Mexicans should be really proud of.

The Rolling Paper: There were some recent complaints that the license application process was too complicated. Can you tell me how the CCD has streamlined that process?

BREWER: The process in New Mexico is actually very straightforward. There are no caps on the number of licenses, and all of the information you need to know about how-to is available through a streamlined online process.

That does not mean that people don’t have questions. That does not mean that people entering into this industry for the first time don’t need to gather more information and learn more things. We want that process to always improve and always get better – always be more inclusive of everyone who wants to get into the industry.

The biggest step forward for the Cannabis Control Division in continuing to move the licensing process forward in a smooth and open way is the addition of new staff. Thanks to the legislature action earlier this year, we did get a nice increase in funding – although we didn’t get all the funding that we had hoped for – that has allowed for additional staff to be hired to help with the licensing process. So it’s now even easier for applicants to get their questions answered and to get their license applications moving forward.

The Rolling Paper: We talked about staffing shortages before. You said the division had less than 10 employees. Has the CCD already started hiring people?

BREWER: Yes. Compliance and licensing are the two areas where we’ve been placing new staff. I want to say we’re close to 20 employees now, but I don’t have an exact number.

The Rolling Paper: What’s the future year look like for the cannabis industry? Analysts are predicting a windfall.

BREWER: I wouldn’t call it a windfall. I would call it hard-earned money that’s been brought into the state by hardworking New Mexicans and small businesses—people who are dedicated to building a new industry in our state. The projections are that New Mexico will make about $300 million in sales annually, gain 11,000 new jobs and $50 million in state revenue in the first year alone. We are on track to meet those goals.

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