Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
An emergency state-level rule change doubled the number of cannabis plants that licensed growers can cultivate at one time, but some in the industry are concerned that the change is too little, too late to meet demand for the start of recreational sales in April.
“Building the infrastructure to double plant count could take months to years for most operators, and plants put in the ground today won’t be ready in April,” said Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, in a prepared statement.
The emergency rule change, which went into place last week, increases the maximum number of mature cannabis plants that licensed growers can grow at one time from 10,000 to 20,000.
In a record of finding to adopt the emergency rule change, Cannabis Control Division director Kristen Thomson wrote that the change is necessary to ensure patients enrolled in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program don’t face shortages due to demand from the recreational market, while keeping the state on track to begin recreational sales on April 1.
“The supply of medical cannabis will become increasingly threatened without an adequate supply of plants,” Thomson wrote.
Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of Ultra Health, the state’s largest cannabis producer, called the change “great news,” but said it likely wouldn’t significantly change the amount of cannabis that will be available in April. He said it typically takes around 5½ months to get a cannabis plant in the ground and ready for harvest, so additional plants wouldn’t be ready for harvest by April.
“We’re probably not going to receive any relief in the remaining 74 days to April 1,” Rodriguez said.
Ultra Health has been aggressive in the past in seeking higher plant counts, filing multiple court challenges against state agencies and requesting emergency rule changes in the past to increase the number of plants available to license-holders. Rodriguez told the Journal that he would like to see the state abolish plant counts altogether and take a market-based approach.
“When you do that, you leave it up to the independent entrepreneur to determine how much financial risk they want to take,” Rodriguez said.
On the other hand, Lewinger said increasing plant counts now undermines work from industry advocates and lawmakers last year to keep the industry from being dominated by a small handful of large-scale producers.
“Increasing the plant count now will only help the very biggest and well-resourced producers – it won’t help medical cannabis patients and it won’t help new businesses trying to break into the industry,” Lewinger said.
The record of finding states that the new rule is slated to expire on July 12.