Coming up with rules and regulations for a brand new, adult-use cannabis market is no easy task. We spoke with New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department Superintendent Linda Trujillo about the department’s progress with regulating the marijuana market.
The Paper.: How is the licensing process coming along?
Trujillo: We just finished a public hearing on June 29, and there’s over 300 public comments that we’re reviewing. Once we get those reviewed and we make some changes, we’ll be closer. We recently posted updated rules. We had hoped that maybe we were close enough that any changes would be a logical outgrowth. But it appears to our legal counsel that some of those changes are substantive enough that we need to go back out for a public hearing.
In regards to the licensing permits for producers, and those licensed under the medical program, we’re beginning the process of creating a renewal application in our online platform. And we hope to have that accomplished within the next week, so that we can ultimately begin renewing their licenses, which were put on hold because of the transition and should have happened on July 1. We’re pretty close to being able to renew the current licensees. And I think we’re almost able to start licensing new applicants sometime around the middle of August, so I think we’re on track.
Have you seen a lot of interest in the program?
There’s been a lot of interest. I think there’s been more interest in the microbusinesses, and that’s a good thing. The Legislature really wanted to encourage those small businesses. I have heard from a number of individuals who reached out to us that are interested in larger operations, but I think moreso from those medium businesses who aren’t going to be at the top of the plant count but aren’t going to be at the bottom either—that are probably going to be right in the middle. And that’s pretty typical for the rest of the country.
I think we’re getting some substantive individuals who are seriously interested in entering into the business.
You mentioned microbusinesses. This area of our law especially excites people. Are you seeing much interest there?
That’s a little bit harder for us to gauge, because those are the individuals that are spending a lot of time trying to figure out a business plan. But based upon the public comments that we received—you know there was over 600 people on the rule hearing at one time—there was a tremendous amount of interest in it. We hear a little bit here and there about the interest, and the comments indicate that there’s a lot of folks that are interested, but they have a lot of questions. I think ultimately our FAQs that we’re developing are going to be beneficial for them to answer some really basic questions that current licensees and businesses have probably already figured out but that smaller businesses are really trying to define.
How is progress coming along with the Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee?
It’s coming along. We have some potential candidates identified. We’re getting close to doing background checks. We obviously hoped that that was going to be something that we would have completed well before now, but we’re just trying to be incredibly cautious and thoughtful about who’s appointed.
We’re hoping that we’ll be able to make some announcements soon, and then be able to hold a committee meeting so that they can potentially look at the rules that have been drafted based upon a lot of different input and make their recommendations before the rules get finalized.
The law requires a pretty extensive list of types of individuals that are required to be in the committee. Does it look like all of those required spots will be filled?
Yeah, I do believe that they’re all going to be filled. What we’re really interested in doing is making sure that we had not only people who had the ability to speak on behalf of and get input from their communities, but that those communities represented New Mexico—and that means geographically, ethnically and in gender. So we are really trying to make sure that there are voices from around the state. I think we’ve accomplished that.
Will New Mexico will be ready to open the doors on the recreational market by April?
Oh, absolutely. We don’t have a choice. The Legislature [placed a deadline of] no later than April 1. The question is whether or not we’ll be able to open up before that date, and we’re doing everything we possibly can to ensure that that happens. I don’t know how long before that date, but we’ll have a better idea as we get closer to the first of the year.
What advice can you give readers who are looking to break into the industry? Is there still time? Is there room for more?
Absolutely. There’s plenty of time. I think there’s been a little bit in interviews on our requirements that we have to start processing applications no later than September 1. That doesn’t mean that you only have until September 1 to apply. It just means we have to have the applications available no later than that. So there’s plenty of time to apply. And there’s plenty of time to get your information together and make a plan.
But one of the most important things that you can do is to really develop a comprehensive business plan. There’s a variety of resources available for entrepreneurs to begin developing a plan. I think that’s the very first step, because starting a new business—whether it’s starting a restaurant, starting a technology company or starting a cannabis business—requires planning. There’s costs involved, and there’s different licensing that you have to do beyond the cannabis licensing. For example, you have to get a local business license, your tax ID number, your federal tax ID number, set up a bank account. All of those steps that have to be accomplished outside of getting a license through the department. So having a plan for what you have to do and how you’re going to accomplish it is really important. It’s your roadmap for a business.