Lawmakers are putting together New Mexico’s budget and the Cannabis Control Division (CCD) is asking for additional funding. Last week the Regulation and Licensing Department (RLD)—which oversees the CCD—presented its budget requests to the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC). Earlier in January, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham proposed allotting $6.5 million to the division as part of her state budget plan. The LFC’s proposal would only give the CCD $3.9 million.

The division has a lot on its plate as we near the April 1 deadline to open the doors on the state’s adult-use cannabis market. Plants need to be put in the ground; products need to be packaged; retailers’ stocks need to be filled. The regulatory framework that’s making it all happen may appear invisible to most New Mexicans, but it’s the only thing keeping this train on the rails.

We sat down with the CCD’s Heather Brewer for a frank discussion about the division’s needs and how those needs will impact this budding industry.

The Paper.: Lawmakers are hashing out a budget plan for the CCD. Can you explain the governor’s funding plan and the LFC’s plan?

Brewer: The governor has recommended—and the Cannabis Control Division supports—a proposed budget of $6.5 million for the division next year. This funding is essential to build on the successes that the division has already experienced putting the rules in place, putting the licensing system into place and standing up a thriving adult-use cannabis industry in the state. It will primarily be used to fund 35 additional staff members who will oversee compliance, streamline licensing, uphold the division’s commitment to social equity—all of the day-to-day stuff that needs to be done in order to ensure public safety and consumer safety as the industry moves forward.

Unfortunately, the LSB budget is slightly lower. And the Cannabis Control Division has been working with legislators to help them understand just how significant an investment is required to ensure a safe industry for the state.

What was the difference between LFC’s plan and the governor’s?

It’s really just staffing. Their funding plan is designed to allow for a much smaller number of new employees—only 10. However the LFCs lower funding level would also prevent the Cannabis Control Division from investing in and building out needed IT infrastructure to track cannabis production and sales as well as to ensure compliance.

How many people are currently working at the CCD?

We have a small but dedicated team that has been working nights and weekends to get the industry up and running. Honestly it’s a little bit in flux, because people throughout the Regulation and Licensing Department are pitching in and helping out even if they’re not in the Cannabis Control Division. We’re getting IT support from other folks in the department. The deputy superintendent as well as the superintendent are involved with policy development. But honestly—and this number I’m going to give you is an approximate number, because there are hires made from day-to-day, so things do change—but we have between 8 and 10 people who are working full-time for the Cannabis Control Division.

That’s astonishing! You say “full time.” How much is “full time?” That seems like a lot of duties for that size of a team.

It really is a lot. We have more than 300 license applications to go through. We have all the rules that need to be finalized and stood up. We have all the compliance processes, the logo guidance for THC warning—all of these things need to be done as well as continuing to monitor and support the Medical Cannabis Program that’s been so effective in New Mexico. This is a lot of work. It’s definitely more work than there are hours in the day, but the staff have really stepped up and are working hard to make sure that things get done and get done well. We just need more staffing, moving forward to ensure that things continue to go well and that the industry starts strong and makes good on our expectations that [it] will provide $300 million dollars in revenue in the first year, 11,000 jobs and up to $50 million in state revenue.

Will 35 employees even be enough to juggle all those responsibilities?

We expect that it will be enough, and we also expect that as the industry continues to grow that the division will grow with it to ensure that we are keeping up with the needs of the industry and consumers. The good news is that we are very optimistic that the legislature and the executive [branch] will reach an agreement and we will be able to get the needed funding and we won’t have to see what things might look like without a dramatically increased number of staff. We are going to move forward in the spirit of manifesting wild success in getting fully funded for those 35 positions.

The CCD recently addressed the LFC about its needs. How did that hearing go?

The hearing went well. It’s part of a long process which will get faster and faster in the coming days. But the superintendent and the deputy superintendent have been in ongoing contact with legislators—with the chairs of both the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance as well as with the Governor’s Office—so conversations are ongoing above and beyond formal hearings in order to ensure that everybody has the information they need to understand the importance of this funding to the industry, to consumers and to state revenue.

There are wonderful advocacy groups in the industry like the Cannabis Chamber of Commerce that are always looking for ways to advocate for the industry and to make sure that needs are met. So I’m certain that within the industry there are individuals and organizations that are looking at this and that are also very busy starting up their own businesses. So there are just a lot of pieces in motion.