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NM agency revises proposed pot limits

Cultivation assistants Celestino Flores and Nathaniel Smith work in a grow house on the 14-acre Ultra Health campus in Bernalillo. (Adria Malcolm/For the Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A New Mexico agency tasked with setting up the state’s new recreational cannabis industry has revised proposed producer licensing rules – and unveiled some new ones – after a public hearing last month.

The changes put forth this week include increasing the number of weed plants licensed cannabis producers can grow – from a maximum of 4,500 mature plants under a previous proposal to a maximum of 8,000 such plants under the revised rules.

In addition, large-scale producers would face the same-per-plant fees as smaller producers, in contrast to the previous version that featured higher fees for bigger producers.

Plant count limits have been a controversial component of New Mexico’s medical cannabis program, with the current limit for licensed producers set at 1,750 plants, and critics had said the previous proposed limits could have caused widespread shortages.

Indy White, the director of sales for PurLife, which has eight medical cannabis dispensaries around New Mexico and plans to expand into the recreational cannabis industry, described the higher plant limits as more reasonable.

“With that number of plants, there’s a lot more variety in how you can cultivate,” said White, adding many cannabis producers currently focus on large plants that take longer to grow and can be more vulnerable to pests.

Meanwhile, Duke Rodriguez, CEO and president of Ultra Health Inc., said industry executives were finding “greater agreement” with state officials on cannabis production issues, but said ramping up production to higher levels will be challenging.

The proposed rules are based in part on a market study on demand for cannabis in three other states that have already legalized recreational marijuana – Colorado, Washington and Vermont – along with a survey of more than 1,000 New Mexico residents.

Of those surveyed, more than 20% said they had used cannabis in the last month.

Based on the market study and the survey, a report conducted by Massachusetts-based Cannabis Public Policy Consulting said between 2,007 to 3,756 plants per producer for each harvest cycle will be required to meet New Mexico cannabis demand during the first year of legalization.

New Mexico became the 17th state to legalize recreational cannabis for adult users when a new law allowing for possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis – or equivalent amounts of cannabis extract – took effect June 29. Personal production of no more than six mature plants per adult is also now permitted.

However, the deadline for beginning commercial sales is not until April 1, 2022, to give state officials time to craft the rules that will govern the cannabis industry.

The Cannabis Control Division will begin accepting applications for cannabis production licenses on Sept. 1 and the revised rules proposed by the agency this week also lay out new details for that process.

That includes a proposed requirement that producers seeking licenses include in their application a “social and economic equity plan” aimed at encouraging racial, gender and age diversity within the cannabis industry workforce.

New Mexico’s cannabis legalization law was approved by state lawmakers during a March special session that was called by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham after previous proposals stalled during this year’s 60-day legislative session.

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