State regulators are calling on lawmakers to update New Mexico’s statutes to give the regulators the authority to confiscate illicit cannabis products. Leaders say it’s tough to enforce the rules when criminal charges are not being brought against bad actors in the weed industry.
Last month, during a Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee meeting, former New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department (RLD) Superintendent Linda Trujillo told lawmakers the department and its Cannabis Control Division (CCD) do not have the authority to seize and destroy illicit marijuana when it’s discovered.
“Even if we did have the authority to confiscate them, what would we do with it?” she asked during the hearing.
The RLD is asking legislators to make regulation enforcement protocols clearer in the Cannabis Regulation Act. It’s also asking for a faster turnaround time on injunctions against companies that flout the rules.
Meanwhile, law enforcement authorities are asking lawmakers to rethink the way they penalize marijuana trafficking.
New Mexico State Police Chief W. Troy Weisler told the committee that cannabis businesses that are caught selling illicit products face little if any threat of criminal prosecution under current state laws.
“There’s a lot less statutory authority to do things on the criminal side,” he said.
Weisler said marijuana penalties make little sense. He claimed that trafficking cannabis to juveniles carried less of a penalty than trafficking alcohol to kids and pointed out that people who get caught trafficking large amounts of illicit weed face the same penalties as those who have much smaller amounts.
“If I have my bag here—and I have 8.1 ounces of marijuana in my bag—that’s the same penalty as if I have 4,000 pounds of marijuana in my tractor-trailer,” he said.
Jeff Grayson, chief deputy attorney general for the state’s Office of the Attorney General, said that the state’s cannabis law has made weed distribution a misdemeanor crime while leaving possession of more than eight ounces a fourth-degree felony—a reversal of the traditional system that dished out more punishment for dealing than using.
If law enforcement authorities are right, these oversights could be encouraging bad behavior among less scrupulous marijuana license holders.
This is evidently the case as a number of bad actors have been caught brazenly breaking the rules over the last few months. During state inspections, CCD compliance staff have reportedly found out-of-state products being sold on New Mexico shelves, products that have not been accounted for in the state’s BioTrack marijuana tracking system and plant counts that exceed license allowances.
Since July, the CCD has revoked three cannabis licenses.
Paradise Exotics Distro was the first to fall when CCD staff reportedly found products with California labels being sold in its dispensary and discovered discrepancies in its sales reporting and shipping manifests.
The second license to be revoked for selling out-of-state weed belonged to C.M.F. Productions. It was taken in August.
Only weeks ago, the CCD announced it was revoking the license of Albuquerque-based Golden Roots for allegedly moving illicit out-of-state marijuana through the BioTrack system, improperly transporting cannabis and nine other violations.
“In such cases, there is a need for authority to seize those unlawfully possessed plants and products, and an accompanying need for the authority to properly carry out the destruction of those unlawful plants and products,” writes RLD representative Andrea Brown in an email to The Paper. “Unlawfully possessed cannabis plants and unlicensed and untested cannabis products pose a serious risk to public health and safety.”
In August, the CCD filed its first ever injunction against Sawmill Sweet Leaf for allegedly selling out-of-state weed as well as operating an unlicensed extraction operation. The division said the company’s disregard for licensing regulations could have posed a danger to the community. A judge granted the injunction and the dispensary was shut down.
Recently appointed CCD Director Todd Stevens told The Paper. in September that compliance is his top priority. “And that’s probably two and three as well,” he said.
He said he wanted to set up “some very black-and-white, stringent compliance operations for those folks who want to try to operate in the illicit market.”
The CCD hired a number of new compliance officers over the summer, bringing the total up to 13. Stevens said that the division is paying closer attention to BioTrack data and looking for indications of bad actors. Compliance officers will also be conducting yearly inspections of all licensed facilities. The state has granted over 1,000 licenses since it legalized adult-use cannabis in 2021.
But that doesn’t guarantee that licensees will be on their best behavior if there is no accountability. The CCD says it needs the authority to act when it finds violations. The state’s cannabis law doesn’t specify who is in charge of disciplining bad actors and removing illicit goods.
“As the Cannabis Regulation Act (CRA) is currently written, the CCD do not have the authority to confiscate or destroy illegal cannabis plants or other illegal cannabis products,” wrote Brown. “The legal authority to seize and destroy unlawfully possessed cannabis and cannabis products needs to be clearly established under the CRA, whether that authority is provided to the CCD or some other state agency or law enforcement agency selected by the Legislature.”
If lawmakers agree, it could be the beginning of the end for the Wild West days of Weed in New Mexico. It may also help curb the flood of illicit marijuana coming into the state and help to strengthen businesses that are operating in compliance.