Much depends on the state’s new Cannabis Control Division.
Founded when New Mexico legalized adult-use recreational marijuana last year, the fledgling agency was given the responsibility to lay the foundations for a new industry that elected officials will sell as boons to the state, from creating jobs to increasing populations Revenue.
One question from the start — and one that has resurfaced in the Roundhouse — is whether the agency has enough money to do the work.
Competing budget proposals have thrown the spotlight on the issue.
The governor’s proposed fiscal 2023 budget is $6.5 million for the department; It would receive $2.6 million less for staff under the Legislative Finance Committee’s spending plan.
Agency officials are urging lawmakers to approve the larger budget.
“The stakes in this department are extremely high,” Victor Reyes, assistant superintendent of the state’s Regulation and Licensing Division, which oversees the department, told members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee on Tuesday.
“If we want the revenue streams to be in the state of New Mexico, we need to be able to have a fully functional department,” Reyes said. “Unfortunately, what is contained in the LFC recommendation does not bring us anywhere near the point where we are able to operate a functioning department that will be able to meet health, safety and welfare requirements as well as meeting the licensing requirements that I believe you all deserve and expect from.”
The agency is expected to submit a motion for additional funding before the Senate Finance Committee on Monday.
Heather Brewer, a department spokeswoman, said the additional money requested in the governor’s proposed budget would fund 35 new jobs.
“The vast majority of these positions would be compliance officers, the people responsible for enforcing rules and auditing and inspecting newly licensed cannabis operations, and the professional staff enforcing packaging standards as well as implementing the track and trace program , managed and supported ,” she said. “This is the seed-to-sale program that we put in place, BioTrack, so that every little piece of what is legally defined as cannabis is under the [law] is tracked from the time it hits the ground to the time it ends up in the hands of consumers.”
Other jobs are related to information technology and legal issues.
“We also need inspectors,” Brewer said. “This is particularly important because we are going from 34 licensed cannabis producers under the medical program when it was exclusively at [the state Department of Health], so far we have more than 300 applications pending [for recreational marijuana licenses], and 45 have already been licensed. We anticipate a tenfold increase in the number of companies and licensees that the Cannabis Control Division needs to work with, oversee and support…so there is a tremendous need for additional funding.”
The Legislative Finance Committee’s budget proposal takes into account the total number of vacancies in the department.
“Right now they could fill about 35 [positions]said Eric Chenier, an analyst for the committee.
The department currently employs around 10 people, but staff in other parts of the department also support the agency.
“The people we have are fantastic,” Brewer said. “They work hard. They work nights and weekends. They take on the daunting task of building a whole new regulatory structure and implementing it under very tight deadlines and intense public scrutiny.”
But the agency needs the budget increase for additional staff “okay [existing employees] to get the support they need to continue and maintain the pace and build on the success we’ve already had,” she added.
During the House Appropriations and Finance Committee meeting, some lawmakers expressed support for providing additional resources to the agency.
MP Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, said the agency’s lack of funding has been a problem from the start.
“When we funded the cannabis program, we knew we didn’t have enough money,” she said. “It came back for us. I think I usually hear the LFC … but I think this agency is clearly not funded with the job description they have.”
According to New Mexico’s Cannabis Regulation Act, the sale of adult-use cannabis must begin no later than April 1st.