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Cannabis grower pitches growth potential to business leaders

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A leading New Mexico producer of medical cannabis made her case for legalization to business leaders Wednesday, saying the industry has grown “exponentially” and would expand more rapidly under an adult-use model like Colorado’s.

The medical pot industry racked up $56 million in sales in 2016, eclipsing sales from New Mexico’s chili and microbrewery industries, said Rachael Speegle, co-owner of the Verdes Foundation.

The number of people with state-issued licenses to legally purchase cannabis shot up 42 percent in the first seven month of 2017, from about 32,000 in January to 45,400 in July.

“These numbers are staggering because they show there is an interest and a growth potential that is going up exponentially every year,” Speegle told business leaders at an Economic Forum of Albuquerque.

The top five licensed nonprofit producers accounted for 76 percent of cannabis sales in 2016.

“In my mind this shows that there is a lot of growth potential” for the other 30 nonprofits, she said.

An economic report projects that the industry could grow rapidly if the state legalizes recreational, or adult-use, of cannabis, as eight other states have done, she said.

Medical marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law and cannot be transported across state lines, has no export potential, Speegle said in response to a question. But the state could benefit from sales to tourists who visit New Mexico, and the market would flourish if cannabis became legal for adult use, she said.

“The export value is tourism, and the market of bringing people into our state,” Speegle said. “There’s a lot more job growth that can happen, and is even happening under our medical model.”