Julieta Neas is in the process of applying for a recreational cannabis retailer license. Her company, Amnesia Dispensary and Accessories, will be operating out of Albuquerque. We talked to her about the struggle to set up a pot shop.
The Paper.: Why do you want to enter the retail cannabis market?
I’ve owned smoke shops for over 10 years prior to this, and I’ve just always had an interest in the cannabis business in one form or another. I received my MBA and decided that I wanted to go into a tech business. I’m also very interested in all the medical benefits that cannabis has. And I think that, now that it’s becoming recreational, it will benefit a lot of people that couldn’t necessarily get a medical cannabis card because of their jobs or for so many other reasons—they might work for a company that does not allow it. But now that it’s recreational, it will probably be a lot easier for them to obtain access to cannabis.
Have you been able to start the application process yet?
So the state passed the legalization law. But the city of Albuquerque was having some issues with the regulations that the state had put forward. They were trying to make [the regulations] a little bit more strict—Mayor Keller’s office [was]. That created a little bit of a bump, because they also didn’t want to let cannabis businesses open in commercial areas like Nob Hill and Old Town. That put us a few weeks behind in trying to figure out what to do. We couldn’t quite get our leases closed, because we didn’t know exactly how it was all going to go.
There were a lot of proposed zoning regulations, like facilities have to be 300 feet away from daycares, schools and churches. They also didn’t want us within 660 feet of Main Street areas. So it was becoming very difficult to find spots that met those criteria. We were mainly looking at warehouse areas, at that point.
So what I did was I wrote to my city councilors—each and every one of them—letting them know how I felt about it. And my landlord also wrote them. I already have a building on San Mateo and Menaul. The landlord wrote to them saying, “You are not allowing us to do business if you allow this prohibition on cannabis companies.”
And as of last week, [the city] decided to keep it the way that the state has it. There was really no changes that I know of. Thanks to that, we were able to start moving forward.
As for the whole application system, I’ve been working with the state and we have started some of the process. We’re getting all the business licenses that we need, starting to register and making sure that the buildings have been inspected—all that type of stuff. So in some ways we have started. However, we had to wait until we were sure that the city wasn’t going to change the rules on us.
Now that the city has settled on its zoning rules, have things started moving at a smoother pace?
Yes, we were finally able to pay to move forward. Because you don’t want to sign a lease and then be stuck with it after they tell you you can’t be there. You could have already signed up for a five-year lease. What would you do?
We’ve been speaking with other prospective retailers, and it seems that some of them have been having trouble finding real estate to set up shop. Did you have similar troubles?
It was hard. I do have a spot now, but it was tough while I was looking. I started looking immediately after it went through. A lot of what’s going on is that we have to find locations that are privately owned. It cannot be owned by a bank, because marijuana is not federally legal.
But a lot of the private landlords that own the buildings are still denying applications. I got rejected several times. They still think that smoking marijuana is taboo. They think that cannabis is bad, so they don’t want it in their building. We’ve been dealing with a lot of that as well.
Are there enough resources available for someone who’s aspiring to become a cannabis business owner? Does the state help inform applicants about the process?
To be honest with you, I have had to do all the research on my own, and it’s been very hard to find, and it’s costly. But I think the state has been friendly, overall, toward the new industry. The city hasn’t been as friendly about it, but it seems like they’re starting to move a little bit more towards working with all of us.
Do you think the state’s timeline is realistic? Will stores actually be able to open on April 1?
It depends on whether they’re able to process the paperwork on time. I don’t see why it would be a problem. Especially if you’re getting started with the process now. That gives us quite a few months to get it ready.
Considering the hurdles that you’ve already faced at this early point in the application process, how do you think it could be made easier for applicants in the future?
I think that they need to publicize a little bit more as to how people can become involved and let people know that it can be expensive but affordable. It’s not like it was for the medical cannabis industry. It’s available to more people now than it has been in the past.
How will a recreational cannabis market change New Mexico?
I think it’s going to have very positive effect. If we look at places like Denver, cannabis taxes are going toward their schools, so they now have some of the best school systems in the nation. We’re such a poor state, and we have been left behind in education. So it’s definitely going to help that. It’s also going to create so many more jobs—good paying jobs.
Keep an eye out for Amnesia Dispensary and Accessories, expected to open in Albuquerque next year.