Many Santa Feans share memories of late Municipal Court Judge Tom Fiorina—particularly for his courtroom service in the ‘80s and ‘90s and his famed practice of collecting Thanksgiving turkeys as payment for parking tickets. At the time of Fiorina’s death last November, however, few public remembrances included his family’s new business.
Not only had Fiorina come to appreciate medical cannabis after experiencing its therapeutic benefits, but in 2022, his wife, daughter and son-in-law opened Green Fuego dispensary between the Santa Fe Regional Airport and the Santa Fe Country Club Golf Course.
Caryn Fiorina tells SFR her husband “became a real believer in the powers of cannabis” and tried just about every method of consuming, but found tinctures as his favorite way to experience relief from neuropathy later in his life. She says he had quite the sense of humor about the entrepreneurial effort.
“He would joke around about the Fiorina cartel,” she says.
Green Fuego remains one of a handful of retail spots owned and operated by long-time Santa Fe families amid a sea of larger corporate growers and sellers in New Mexico’s nascent adult-use cannabis industry. After years of limited sales and licensure under the Medical Cannabis Program, last year’s rapid-fire issuance of licenses under a new state law has broadened the number of local entrepreneurs and the opportunities for those who prefer to buy local.
Some Santa Fe cannabis businesses owners who have spent more than a decade establishing their brands are leery about how many new dispensaries the City Different can handle. In the balance, new operators say they’re confident of the special recipe for industry relevance.
Green Fuego could serve as the poster child of any locally owned Santa Fe business where the whole family is on the job together. As official owner, Fiorina handles the books and licensing issues, while her daughter Chanet Fiorina-Trujillo lends her business and marketing expertise. Fiorina-Trujillo’s husband, Eric Trujillo, handles the company’s grow operation and serves as the resident plant expert.
Trujillo grew up in both Pojoaque and Santa Fe and studied soil management at New Mexico State University with an eye on golf courses. As a cannabis user himself, though, Eric Trujillo began growing his own out of necessity.
“I just had a hard time finding good quality medicine,” he says of the days prior to the 2021 Cannabis Regulation Act. “I studied growing and for 10 years straight, I dedicated my life basically to be a grower, too.”
During the nearly 15 years between legalized medical-use cannabis and the first recreational-use sales last year, licenses to grow and sell were hard to come by. Part of the rason is the Department of Health, which oversees the Medical Cannabis Program and was the sole authority over legal weed until 2021, sporadically opened the licensing process over the years. That bottleneck created a premium on licenses. When the law changed, out-of-state corporations rushed in. The state’s Regulation and Licensing Department began oversight of the recreational market and ushered in hundreds of applicants from new businesses hoping to find their places.
Operations that were licensed as medical cannabis producers prior to full legalization, commonly referred to as “legacy” producers, were the first to get an adult-use license and thus had a leg up when legal sales expanded.
Colorado-based company Schwazze finalized the purchase of New Mexico’s R. Greenleaf for more than $40 million in February 2022—about two months before adult-use sales started. Months prior, in September 2021, Arizona-based Nature’s Medicine purchased PurLife, which had been in the medical market since 2016.
Eli Goodman has co-owned Best Daze along with his father Len since 2018, but the elder Goodman had previously founded New MexiCann Natural Medicine, a legacy producer that shut down after two separate manufacturing-related fires. Best Daze has since expanded to eight locations state-wide, including three in Santa Fe.
Len Goodman flippantly and only half-kiddingly sums up his advice for cannabis tenderfoots looking to get into the market in a few words: “Don’t do it.”
“It’s not a gold rush, it’s not dot com,” he says. “It just isn’t.”
Eli Goodman forsees Santa Fe on the verge of oversaturation and that bumper outdoor crops later this year from commercial growers could mean disappointment for newcomers.
“If it stays as it is, the market will crash out, prices will go down dramatically,” he says. “If there’s an abundance harvest in October, you’re going to see a crash in wholesale and you’ll see that start to reflect in retail, and that will drive people out of business.”
Lyra Barron, who started Fruit of the Earth Organics more than a decade ago with her son and whose business has expanded to take up a significant portion of Early Street, shares the concern that more growers will lead to lower wholesale prices and eventually thwart small businesses. Her advice to new operators is to have realistic expectations and “Don’t bet the farm basically,” instead, she says “take it step by step and see where this is going because now there’s a lot of veteran, bigger corporate interests that are moving in.”
Since licensing opened, Eldorado’s Abide Wellness shuttered and OSO Cannabis, which has stores across the state, closed its store near the Santa Fe Railyard.
Fiorina says she’s confident Green Fuego will make it, namely because the company is primarily selling its own harvest and not beholden to wholesale market prices.
“I feel like those dispensaries that aren’t producing are the ones that are more at risk,” she says.
A few miles north of Green Fuego is Endo, another family-owned dispensary where co-owner Ian Aarons is usually buzzing about while his cousin Alex Costello holds down the check-in desk. Ian’s wife Stephanie Aarons can often be found behind the counter helping customers and patients. Behind the scenes—and literally in the back office—Ian’s dad, Stephen Aarons takes care of the books and any licensing issues that come up when he’s not running his criminal defense practice.
The elder Aarons says he’s always considering how many dispensaries Santa Fe can support.
“I looked at the market, it looks like 50% die within the first four years and 70% within the first seven years, if you look at Colorado, California and Oregon, where it’s been around for a while,” he says. “So how do you make sure you’re part of the 30% that don’t?”
So far, Endo has operated as a retail-only operation, meaning everything the company sells was grown or manufactured by another company. But, Ian Aarons says he’s already got a plan that he hopes will separate Endo from other shops: Sell weed that no one else has. Endo’s production license allows Ian to tend to his crops in the early stages of growth. He says he’s sourced unique cultivars that aren’t easy to find, including one that produces what he describes as “devilish” looking and “the blackest weed” he’s ever seen.
“There’s a lot of these up-and-coming strains that you might know in three years or so,” he says. “But I’ve just kind of dug my roots in with some of these guys all across the nation to try and get some newer stuff.”
A short walk north up Agua Fría from Endo’s spot at the Siler Road bridge sits an industrial park with High Class Cannabis tucked away behind an auto repair shop. Brothers Justin and Joshua Garcia opened their retail shop in July 2022, after nearly a decade of owning and running a Southside vape shop.Justin Garcia says he’s confident High Class can withstand the flood of licenses by finding a niche in the market.
“In an industry like this, there’s lanes to be found,” he says.
One of those lanes for High Class is selling clones (aka plants that are ready to grow), thanks to an exclusive deal with local grower 505 Clones, a company owned by Jerome Baca and Joey Jacques, who own the growing supply store Urban Rebel Farms.
The Garcia Brothers are also trying to make a name for themselves with additional products.
“We really enjoy the concentrates in particular,” Justin Garcia says. “So we really want to put our foot in that area.”
He says he’s used to competition, considering how ubiquitous vape shops are in Santa Fe.
“In the vape industry for instance, there’s so many different products going around that it’s hard for everybody to have the same products,” he notes.
The families behind Green Fuego, Endo and High Class all seem to be following advice on how to make it in the industry from the younger Goodman over at Best Daze, whether they know it or not.
Eli Goodman says new operators in the Santa Fe dispensary endurance race should take small steps to carve out “scalable” space in the industry instead of trying to go toe-to-toe with out-of-state or even local giants that found their strides years ago.
“Start in a smaller range of what you want to achieve, with the ability to scale it up,” he says. “But I would not recommend trying to dive in as top dog. Try to find a niche.”