SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico regulators have doubled the number of marijuana plants that licensed growers can cultivate as the state prepares for recreational sales to start this spring, officials announced Tuesday.
Increasing the plant count makes sense “to ensure that everyone can maximize the benefits of a thriving cannabis industry,” said state Cannabis Control Division Director Kristen Thomson.
The division also needs to ensure that supplies remain consistent for the tens of thousands of New Mexicans who participate in the state's medical marijuana program.
But some marijuana industry players are concerned that the change is too little and too late to meet demand because of the time it takes time to put in place the needed infrastructure and for plants to grow.
Officials with Ultra Health, the state’s largest cannabis producer, told the Albuquerque Journal that the rule change likely wouldn’t significantly change the amount of cannabis that will be available by April. It typically takes around 5½ months to get a plant in the ground and ready for harvest.
“We’re probably not going to receive any relief in the remaining 74 days to April 1,” said Ultra Health President and CEO Duke Rodriguez.
Ultra Health has filed multiple court challenges against state agencies and requested emergency rule changes in the past to increase the plant count. Rodriguez said he would like to see the state abolish plant counts altogether and take a market-based approach.
Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, said increasing plant counts now undermines previous work by advocates and lawmakers to keep the industry from being dominated by a handful of large-scale producers.
The rule change does not allow micro producers authorized for fewer than 200 plants to grow more of them. Their plant counts are set by statute and state officials say legislative action would be needed for the micro producers to be allowed to grow more plans.
“Equity and fairness are foundational principles of New Mexico’s vision for the state’s cannabis industry,” Thomson said. “We will work with legislators and the governor to ensure those values are upheld and that micro producers see increased plant count limits as soon as possible.”
New Mexico's cannabis law was signed last year by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat. It set a deadline of April 1 for recreational sales to begin. The state has estimated that annual recreational sales could reach $300 million in the first year.
Unlike other states, New Mexico has no limit on the number of producer licenses that can be issued.
About 290 applications have been submitted, and 30 have been approved. The state has also renewed licenses for 34 existing medical cannabis producers.