With the launch of recreational cannabis sales in New Mexico scheduled for April 1, state officials say that cultivators are currently growing more than one million cannabis plants. But with the opening of dispensaries now only days away, industry insiders are questioning the state’s figures and wondering if there will be sufficient supplies of cannabis for consumers and medical patients.
This week, the state Regulation and Licensing Department’s Cannabis Control Division (CCD) announced that licensed cannabis growers have entered 1,013,178 mature plants into a statewide tracking system. The figure is more than twice as many plants as state officials estimate will be needed to serve the state’s 132,000 registered medical cannabis patients and recreational customers. Last summer, Linda Trujillo, superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department, told lawmakers that the cannabis industry will need about 500,000 plants to satisfy demand.
But some representatives of the state’s cannabis industry have questioned the number of plants in cultivation reported by state officials. Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that the number is “impossible,” saying that it would require “football fields after football fields” of land to grow that many cannabis plants. Jason Greathouse, co-owner of Roswell-based Pecos Valley Production, also expressed disbelief at the state’s plant count.
“If there are a million cannabis plants in the state, I don’t know where they are,” said Greathouse. “Are they legal plants? Are they illegal plants?”
“I only have 3,000 plants in the ground,” he added, although he plans to have 20,000 by June.
Heather Brewer, a spokeswoman for the CCD, said on Tuesday that the state’s plant total is accurate, noting that it reflects information from the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system BioTrack. The data is entered by cannabis cultivators themselves, so “assuming all the information was appropriately entered, that number is accurate,” she said.
Regulators Increase Cannabis Production Limits
Early this year, CCD director Heather Thomson announced the adoption of emergency regulations to increase the plant limits for cannabis cultivators. Under the temporary rules, most growers were allowed to cultivate twice as many plants.
“We have been listening to producers, consumers and patients who are as committed as the Cannabis Control Division is to supporting a thriving cannabis industry in New Mexico,” Thomson said in January. “Doubling the plant count for licensed producers makes sense to ensure that everyone can maximize the benefits of a thriving cannabis industry.”
But Rodriquez said he does not believe that the state’s cultivators have sufficient cannabis to avoid shortages once adult-use dispensaries open on April 1.
“What we have today is what we are going to serve the market. Is it going to be enough? The answer is no,” Rodiguez said. “On day one it’s going to be a challenge as it’s going to be a challenge for maybe as long as 9 to 12 to 18 months.”
But regulators believe that there will be enough cannabis, with any temporary shortages being quickly rectified.
“I cannot imagine this nor do we anticipate stores selling completely out. Unless they were only selling one product,” Thomson said.
Brian Vicente, a founding partner of cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, said that “New Mexico is entering an exciting new post-prohibition era” with next week’s launch of adult-use cannabis sales.
“The Governor and regulators have shown a keen interest in assisting this growth industry, while balancing the needs of various community members,” Vicente wrote in an email to High Times. “When a new state begins recreational sales, it is common to experience fluctuations in cannabis supply, as this new market settles.”
After speaking to a number of New Mexico producers, Vicente said that businesses are eager to supply the state’s new recreational cannabis market and are working to address concerns of potential product shortages.
“However, given the novel nature of this April 1 recreational launch, it’s certainly possible that demand will outstrip supply in the short term, and we may see limitations on purchase amounts or other measures to address high demand,” Vicente said.
Barbara Crawford, owner of medical pot cultivator Southwest Cannabis in Taos, New Mexico, has nearly doubled the capacity of her operation over the past two years to about 3,500 plants. But even with the new investments in production, she noted that it takes time to grow plants to maturity and harvest.
“That’s just the reality of this business,” Crawford told the Taos News. “I think we’re gonna get there eventually, but there’s going to be a shortage come June. I don’t care how many stores there are.”