Editor’s note: This is the third story in a continuing series.
Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Matt Muñoz is so passionate about his alma mater, University of New Mexico, that he stuck around well after graduation.
Starting as a student intern, Muñoz worked on UNM’s government relations team for about a decade.
The job meant long days in Santa Fe when the state Legislature was in session, holding long meetings with a variety of constituents to help fund massive capital projects at the state’s largest four-year university.
“Every time I would try to leave, it seemed like UNM kept dragging me back,” he said.
Muñoz lobbied for funding on projects ranging from the school’s $30 million expansion to UNM Hospital to new physics and astronomy facilities.
“If there’s a building built on campus in the last 10 years, I might have been one of the people to go out and try to get funding for it,” Muñoz said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, however, those long meetings turned into Zoom calls that felt longer still. Muñoz recalled days of wall-to-wall video chats, staring at a screen during meetings that ran from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“It felt like I was just on one Zoom call after another for 10 to 12 hours a day,” he said.
And so, in June, Muñoz traded in an established job at one of the state’s largest employers for a shot to crack the state’s newest industry: recreational cannabis.
Today, Muñoz serves as the chief innovation and finance officer for Carver Family Farm, one of the first cannabis producers in New Mexico to receive a microbusiness license from the state.
“This has been my life since June 8th,” Muñoz said. “It’s been 24/7.”
Muñoz, 39, said he’s been interested in cannabis for years. When he was in high school, he was caught in possession of 5 grams of cannabis, for which he lost his scholarship, wasn’t able to graduate on time and had to spend 10 days in county jail.
“It caused me to be a five-year senior,” Muñoz said.
After Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 2 into law in April, making New Mexico the 18th state to legalize cannabis for recreational use, Muñoz met his friends, Andrew Brown and Erika Hartwick Brown, for coffee to go over the specifics of the new law, drawing on his experience as a lobbyist. The meeting ended with the pair asking if he wanted to partner on their planned dispensary, which would operate under the state’s micro-license program. He credits the duo for opening the door for a new career.
“I wouldn’t just do this with (just) any person that grows at home,” Muñoz said.
Muñoz said he gave up his roughly $90,000 salary at UNM to pursue his new career. He said he and the other founders haven’t taken paychecks since the summer, and are relying on savings to stay afloat while the company grows. Muñoz said they raised startup funds by selling shares of the company to friends and family.
“It’s all people that we know and love,” he said.
One challenge was finding a building that could house Carver Family Farm’s dispensary in Albuquerque’s notoriously tight rental market. Muñoz said finding the company’s current space, at 8917 Adams NE, was a highlight given how many owners balked at allowing a company to grow and sell cannabis on their premises.
“Getting a building in Albuquerque was a huge obstacle,” he said.
The company doesn’t have any employees outside its leadership team at this point, but Muñoz said the company is planning to hire between 10 and 12 employees over the next four to six weeks.
With a license in hand, Carver Family Farm has started growing cannabis ahead of the planned April 1 start date for the recreational program. Due to city and state restrictions, the company is behind where it hoped to be at the start of the year, and Munoz said the company may have to make do with fewer harvests than it was hoping for.
“Instead of having six harvests, we’re probably going to have two or three,” he said.
As a former lobbyist, though, Muñoz knows better than to blame the bureaucrats working to create rules and issue permits.
“There’s half as many people doing twice as much work,” he said.