The Verdes Foundation has been serving New Mexico medical cannabis patients for a few years. Now they’re planning on expanding into the adult-use market. We sat down with CEO and co-founder Rachael Speegle to talk about the transition.
The Paper.: Can you tell us about your plans to expand into the adult use market?
Speegle: We feel that an area where we do exceptionally well is symptom management and pointing people towards products that elevate their life. We are excited to have a broader market to continue to do exactly that. I feel that adult-use brings us social equity. I think our medical cannabis program has left quite a few people out. An example of that is if English is your second language, you’re probably not going to your doctor to ask them to write a schedule one drug recommendation for you. But with the legalization of adult-use cannabis, people who have not been able to have those conversations with their medical providers will now get access to wellness programs that have been only for the elite—for people who can afford to participate in the program. So I’m really excited. What that means for us is that we get to continue to do symptom management and continue to point people towards products that elevate their life—but with the masses now.
Have you been happy with the licensing application process?
I don’t think any process is easy. I think the problem for any of these programs is that they’re already in motion while the rules and the regs are being written. And because of that, it’s challenging for everyone—the regulators, the constituency, the operators.
But I think that considering how hard those challenges are, our state is actually doing a really good job. One of the most beautiful things about New Mexico is how accessible our regulators are. What I’m noticing is that people who want to be operators who are small rural businesses have access to speak to the Regulations and Licensing Department (RLD) and bring their concerns forward. In a different state, I don’t think these people would even have access to have their voices heard.
I can’t say that it’s all perfect and it hasn’t been without its hiccups, but I really would love to give credit to the fact that the RLD is way more accessible and transparent than the previous regulatory body under the Department of Health ever was. I think that they’re listening to people, and they want to get it right.
Some producers are still concerned about possible shortages and how that might affect the medical community. Are you worried at all about patient access to medicine?
Yeah, I don’t think there’s any way around it. Producers didn’t have a long enough runway. And I think there’s a disconnect between our legislative body and reality when it comes to how long of a runway is necessary in order to truly protect the patient population.
The legislative body has villainized the current industry for multiple years—have looked at us as though we have an opportunity that they don’t have, that their partners, that their friends, that their family members weren’t given. And because of that, I think they have punished the industry and, in turn, ended up punishing patients by not giving us a long enough runway to expand—to be able to continue to serve the medical needs of the patient population to get safe access to quality cannabis in addition to the adult-use needs of our community. This is not a capitalistic issue. This is a human issue, a medical issue and a safe access issue. And I think they have missed the mark for many years, because they’ve distracted themselves with an alternative conversation.
Some producers have voiced concerns that there just isn’t enough time for the market to get ready by the April deadline. Do you think the market will be up and running by then?
I think aspects of it will be. It’s going to be in its infancy. There are rules that are in place. There’s statute in place that helps protect a certain amount of inventory to go towards the patient population for the first year. I think that that’s a really good starting point. So I think that we’ll see commercial grows pop up—they won’t start to yield anything of value yet.
I also think that with people being able to grow at home and have access to plants at home, they’ll be able to consume without even having to walk into a dispensary. Dispensaries will be there to serve people not just from a retail perspective, but also an education perspective. Most of us have been in this business for 10-plus years, and we’re here to answer your questions, not just to complete transactions.
When it comes to recreational cannabis, I ask that we all work collaboratively to make sure that we don’t create rules that accidentally leave certain groups out. If you’re an expert about something that could negatively impact the implementation of a rule or could negatively impact a community, it’s your responsibility to speak up now and not to complain about it after the fact. Your advocacy could be life-changing for a family or for a community that thinks that they’re going to have access to this program, but might not because a rule is written that’s short-sighted.
And in that same vein, it’s our job as operators to be mentors to the next generation that’s coming into this market, and we shouldn’t need to be incentivized with either positive or negative incentives to do that. We, as an industry, should work with people in our community to answer their questions and to prevent them from possibly going all in on something that could be a mistake, and then investing with bad partners or doubling down on a facility that we know won’t actually meet their needs in the long run.
So I would just send out a message to the community asking my other fellow operators to be good citizens and to make sure that we mentor the next generation and pass along the good graces that have been passed on to us at times in our development and our growth. It’s exciting and rarely in our generation do we get to do something new and emerging, so it’s cool to be a part of it.