New Mexico’s Cannabis Regulation Act was written in the spirit of encouraging small business owners to play a part in the adult-use cannabis market shoulder-to-shoulder with the larger corporate entities. But some prospective cannabis entrepreneurs say that provisions in the law that allow municipalities to make their own zoning regulations are also allowing those municipalities to block small businesses from gaining a foothold. We sat down with Chris Baca, co-founder of Forest Road, a microproducer looking to enter the industry, and spoke about the trouble his company has been having finding a proper place to set up a facility.
The Paper.: You recently bumped up against zoning rules that kept you from opening a facility in a convenient place. The CRA gives municipalities some freedom with regards to zoning. Isn’t this fair?
Baca: A lot of people out there have the land, the space, the water rights—their families have owned this land forever—but it’s their residence. For us, we said, “Okay, that sucks. We were going to use this property over here, but we’ll just look for something else.” But when the state set up the program, they said, “We’re going to give everybody the opportunity.” Well, to be fair, they pushed the law through. And now that it’s getting to the counties, they’re putting their spin on it, and some of it seems downright shady.
Our landlord and business partner went to talk to the county about zoning certification, because that was part of the application process. So he calls, and they tell him all that we have to do. We can do agriculture—we can’t have a storefront, but we don’t want to operate a storefront—we just want to do this on the cultivation side. “Cool. Yep, this is what you need.” And they gave us the list of stuff we needed and told him to come back and they’d get us moving along. Well two months go by, and we’re just sitting there waiting.
We were also getting other things done, but as for that list: Everything else for the license was done except for zone certification—the number one thing. So we kept calling, and we’re getting stonewalled. Finally—after serious pushing—my colleague gets on the phone with somebody, and he tells us that it’s going to be announced in a day or two that Albuquerque won’t be allowing cannabis cultivation in M-1 zones. M-1 zones are designated for light manufacturing and agricultural activity.
But shouldn’t there be some limitations?
I understand where they’re coming from to a certain extant. They don’t want the problems that they had in Colorado—people in the suburbs were just turning their houses into grow houses. And our current administration in the state government pushed the law through without really taking any input from the counties and cities. So I do understand.
But the untold story is all those families and entrepreneurs that were supposed to be able to get into this industry got cut out. And again, this wasn’t sold as a big business bill from the start. It was as sold as an opportunity for the little guy—for the families.
The areas that are being left open are the big industrial spots. And they’re getting bought up by outside investors from California, Chicago, New York, etc. It’s hard for anybody to get their hands on. Do you think a small family can just go and compete with the big billion dollar interests that are buying up the properties? It’s impossible. If it’s meant to help a certain kind of person, then why is everything structured in order to make it impossible for them?
You said the law felt rushed. Why would the state need to push a law like this through?
Because they want you online to grow the cannabis. They need the cannabis. the problem isn’t that there aren’t enough stores to sell weed. The problem is that they can’t keep the stores filled. There is a gap in the ability to provide—to put cannabis on the shelves for people. And that’s right now. That’s before April hits and the adult-use market opens. Once people can legally go into the stores …. suddenly the whole population can go in. And that’s not to say everybody’s going to start smoking cannabis, but it’s going be a lot of people.
If they can’t cover that spread right now, how are they going to do it in the future when there are more people buying product? We’ve spoken to a few retailers who are looking for producers. We asked, “What kind of strains do you want? Just give us a list.” And none of them cared. They just wanted something.
How can something be done to help companies like yours get the opportunities that they were promised?
Thankfully, we have a team of people that were ready, because we always assumed that the license would be expensive and that they would try to cut us out. We knew that property would be a problem. So even though we got hit by this thing, we weren’t hit as bad as others. We were prepared, because we weren’t totally convinced to begin with. We’re not dead in the water. But we’re not set up to fight an advocacy fight, so we just go forward.
But these other people trying to get into the industry—they’re going to either say, “It’s not worth it,” and they’ll give up, or they’re going to band together and go into the advocacy fight. Maybe over the next few years we can win the right to use our own properties to grow a cash crop and make money off of it.