New Mexico is known for hot air balloons, beautiful national parks and an enviable arts scene. And now we can add a fourth to that famous list: Marijuana. We should not be proud of this.
New Mexico has the most marijuana dispensaries per capita in the nation – i.e. more than 26 per 100,000 people – compared to second-place Oregon, with 16.5 per 100,000.
We need to slow down. If we don’t, our kids will suffer.
As the profit-driven marijuana industry takes root in the Land of Enchantment, we must remain vigilant to counteract its efforts and prevent substance misuse.
New Mexicans are facing the rapid expansion of a marijuana industry that is focused solely on maximizing its profits. That story usually does not end well. Next month, a 24-hour dispensary with two drive-through windows will open in Chaparral. The industry is also working to open more consumption lounges. The marijuana industry, just like the tobacco and alcohol industries, will always place profits ahead of public health.
The density of dispensaries is especially concerning through the lens of public health. New Mexico’s high youth use is likely to worsen at a time when the state’s 12- to 17-year-olds already have the second-highest rate of marijuana use in the nation. This is in line with the latest research, too: studies have found that 11th-graders were more likely to use marijuana if they lived in communities with a high density of dispensaries. Another study found the opening of licensed dispensaries within four miles of one’s residence was associated with heavy use by young adults.
Minors are more likely to become marijuana users in states with legal marijuana than in states without it. In fact, legalization has been associated with a 25% increase in adolescent marijuana use disorder, or addiction to marijuana.
In addition to more youth using marijuana, many others are inadvertently consuming it. In October 2022, Susan Smolinske, director of the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center, warned of a rise in young children accidentally ingesting edibles. She noted that, in the 11 days prior to the interview, the agency had received 11 cases of children ingesting marijuana, adding that marijuana-related emergency department calls had increased by 1,000%.
There’s little wonder why. Dispensaries market and sell products that are nearly indistinguishable from non-marijuana products – the only difference is these can send your kids to the hospital. For example, the “menu” of the Best Daze dispensary in Albuquerque includes marijuana-infused gummies, lollipops, chocolate bars, chocolate drops, honey, syrup, lemonade and seltzers.
Youth-focused education campaigns are needed to raise awareness about the risks of marijuana use, as well as the dangers associated with using dabs, concentrates, waxes, and other-high potency products promoted by dispensaries. The legalization of marijuana – which normalizes the drug and decreases related risk perceptions – will surely make the challenge of preventing marijuana use more challenging.
Our lawmakers must advance common-sense education campaigns with this year’s budget surplus before it’s too late for another generation. Legislators should enact a 15% THC potency cap, which would protect the mental health of users by providing a limit on today’s increasingly pure, and dangerous, forms of marijuana. Although marijuana is now “legal” in New Mexico, the Legislature can and should still pass sensible laws that promote public health, not private profits.
Luke Niforatos lives in Colorado. Smart Approaches to Marijuana is a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for science-based drug policies.