Cannabis Constant

Regulation head Linda Trujillo is back in charge after cannabis agency says goodbye to its third division director

Regulation and Licensing Superintendent Linda Trujillo is back to overseeing the day-to-day of the department’s Cannabis Control Division. The former state lawmaker took over as the RLD head in January 2021 and two months later was working with lawmakers to craft the framework for what became the Cannabis Regulation Act. While the department scrambled to piece together regulations and prepare to accept business applications later that year, Trujillo ran the Cannabis Control Division with the help of John Blair, then her second in command and current Santa Fe city manager

The cannabis division’s first director lasted less than a year before moving on to a cannabis consulting business. Now, Trujillo is taking the division reins again after the third director Andrew Vallejos resigned from his job pulling double duty as acting head of cannabis and director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division.

Trujillo talked with SFR about how the first year of adult-use sales has gone.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

SFR: We’re a year into regulated sales and your department recently announced $300 million in sales since last March. Besides the money, what are some other successes of legalized cannabis?

Linda Trujillo: One is that we gave out over 2,000 licenses. We developed a system where folks can apply online. Just since last year, when we started developing the rules and then started taking applications in September, there’s been issued 2,093 different cannabis licenses. That includes 352 producers, 413 micro producers, 506 manufacturers, 630 retailers. We’ve got 12 consumption areas and there’s 36 couriers. Right now, our biggest challenge is trying to get testing laboratories reviewed and approved. But, I think getting the licenses issued, when you think about where we started last year at this time: 34 legacy licenses.

Where do you see room for improvement?

I spent a lot of time listening to the Legislature, and what kept coming up was compliance. Not that we haven’t been doing compliance. We’ve done over 540 inspections between last year, April 1, and the end of March, and there have been 196 complaints filed. What I heard overwhelmingly was, and this is all subjective comments and nobody provided concrete evidence for it, there is a concern about packaging. So, we’re going to go out in the field, and we’re going to look at packaging, and we’re going to document what we find. There’s also some concern about product being sold from out of state. If you’re a retailer and you’re selling product from out of state, that’s illegal and that’s considered part of the illicit market. The reason for that, and why I think there’s room for improvement, is that the idea behind legalized cannabis sales is that the consumer knows where it was grown, what was used to grow it, how it was manufactured, and how it was packaged, and then ultimately can feel safe at the counter when they purchase it.

How does RLD sniff out something like that?

A couple of different ways, actually. Just basic observation, going into the retailer, going into the manufacturing and looking at the packaging. Some of the stuff people have said anecdotally: ‘Here, it’s got California labels on it, and covered up by a New Mexico label.’ Another way is obviously looking at the seed to sale system. Was there an enormous amount of product that came in the middle point? Not the growth, but it is kind of just dumped in there. Our staff needs to have more training on how to look at those numbers. The other side of that, though, is in the sales. If you’ve grown 100 plants, and you’ve got this much cannabis that is ordinarily from that kind of a plant, whether it’s indoor or outdoor, and yet you’ve sold $20 million in cannabis, there could be a problem there.

RLD saw the third Cannabis Control Division director leave last month. What are the plans for filling that position and also ensuring continuity?

I’ve been here throughout the whole thing. I helped shuttle through the legislation, helped do the drafting of amendments, and helped with the rules. I’ve been kind of that constant throughout. But we are doing some interviews, we’ve got some resumes, and have talked to a couple of folks. I hope that we will have somebody here within probably the next month—it could be a tad bit longer.

You’ve stuck around through a new division and the respective growing pains, but before that you put in years as a public employee and a state lawmaker. What keeps you going and do you see retirement on the horizon?

What gets me up in the morning is that [RLD is] putting all of our license types online. That is so exciting for me that we could actually have a whole licensing system that’s online that the public can come into at any point in the day, any day of the week, and they can apply for a psychology license, they can apply for a private investor license. I think that brings us into the current period where we’re all working electronically. We’ve made a lot of progress, aside from cannabis. We’ve made a lot of progress as an agency, so that keeps me going. The fact that I can be resolving a massage therapy issue in the morning or body art issue in the afternoon, and a cannabis issue in the late evening, that’s kind of cool. There’s never a boring moment.

So, you’re in it for the long haul?

I am here right now. You’re right, I’ve done a lot of public service. A lot has transpired. I will continue to do the work for the governor that she would like to see accomplished for as long as I can.

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