“New Mexico’s cannabis legalization policy must ensure equity and diversity, while reinvesting in the communities that were hardest hit by cannabis criminalization,” state Reps. Javier Martínez and Andrea Romero wrote in a guest column published in the Journal in January 2021.
“We are going to provide equity, not just to New Mexicans who are engaged in this economic opportunity, but (also) to whole rural communities that I know are represented here today,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said at a cannabis legalization conference in June 2021.
But, more than a year later, and four months into legalization, that promised “equity” is still elusive.
Only 39% of approved cannabis license applications have gone to people who self-identified as having some Latino, Hispanic or Spanish origins, says the New Mexico Regulation & Licensing Department. That compares to the latest census numbers for New Mexico’s population of 50% Hispanic.
And only 29% of approved license applications have gone to those who identify as female, according to the RLD.
At first glance, there certainly seemed to be a lot of opportunity for women and minorities to get into what lawmakers and the governor touted as an important means of diversifying the state economy. The nearly 2,000 cannabis licenses issued include not just retail shops, but also producers and micro-producers, manufacturers, couriers and testing laboratories.
And yet, the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce concedes equitable business ownership remains a goal, not a reality.
“I’m deeply sad because we haven’t made a lot of movement in terms of equity in this cannabis industry,” said cannabis chamber executive director Ben Lewinger.
One reason is that those entering the cannabis industry need to have access to capital. Many lenders shy away from issuing loans because marijuana remains a federally prohibited controlled substance. Those with money on hand are far more likely to enter the industry than those who need a business loan. And those with access to money are more often men and non-minorities.
The Cannabis Control Division has been holding monthly workshops that provide information to train potential entrepreneurs. The CCD has also partnered with two pueblos in an intergovernmental agreement aimed at opening up license opportunities for tribal members, and the state has opened up a loan program aimed at lending microbusinesses up to $250,000 with low interest rates.
But we’re not yet seeing the hoped-for results in eliminating barriers in the cannabis industry for women and people of color.
Meanwhile, recreational sales have yet to meet projections. Legal recreational sales are on an annual pace of $263.7 million in the first year, short of the $300 million the governor and other legalization proponents projected.
Four months in, the state’s fledgling recreational pot industry is not yet delivering on politicians’ promises.
Equity is a tough egg to crack, no doubt about it. And, as an Editorial Board, we have voiced concerns about the effects of cannabis use and are not about to encourage more consumption to boost sales. But the governor, lawmakers and other legalization proponents sold the public on specific economic benefits for the state and aspiring entrepreneurs of color.
And they have yet to deliver on them.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.