Leaf Brief

Leaf Brief: Countdown to Rec

Get ready to grab your place in line on April 1

A little less than two weeks to go, folks! New Mexico is so close to recreational cannabis that we can almost taste (and smell) it. With over a dozen dispensaries in Santa Fe, it’ll be hard to choose whose line to get in on the first day—a great problem to have.

Big news for everyone’s favorite tiny-but-thriving artist community: Madrid is set to get its first dispensaries. CannaSoul and Madrid Cannabis Inc. both have retail licenses from the state Cannabis Control Division. It might be awhile before they’re open, though, because they’ve yet to get required approval from Santa Fe County. Cid Isbell, CEO of CannaSoul, is holding out hope that he’ll be able to serve customers soon, adding that he got into the industry in part because he “believes in the medicinal and spiritual qualities of the plant.”

Scroll down for more news from around the state and nation.

Supply reassurances

There’s been much discussion about the possibility of a supply shortage in New Mexico when recreational sales begin. Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of prominent cannabis company Ultra Health, told SFR last fall he thinks businesses will quickly run out of product and recovering could take 18 to 24 months. Others in the industry, though, think there’ll be plenty to go around. “We do not have concerns about lack of product,” Kristen Thomson, director of the Cannabis Control Division, told the Santa Fe New Mexican. “As with any new gadget or restaurant or something opening, some products may come up short, but we do not anticipate a massive statewide shortage of product on opening day.”

Tax case tossed

The New Mexico Supreme Court late last month ruled that medical cannabis is exempt from gross receipts tax, effectively ending a years-long legal fight. The case originated with requests from producers to the state Taxation and Revenue Department for tax refunds, first in 2014 and again in 2018, which the department denied. The New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled that medical cannabis should be treated like other prescriptions, which are not taxed, and the state’s tax agency appealed that ruling. State Supreme Court justices were set to hear the appeal in late February, but their unanimous ruling came before that.

Retail flood

Albuquerque city officials have approved 53 cannabis retail locations, a public map from the city shows. All dispensaries operating in Albuquerque are required to obtain approval from the Planning Department, which announced last month that it was accepting applications on a first-come, first-served basis. There are also five applications under review, three awaiting review and three that were denied. Common reasons for denial: failure to first obtain a license from the state or a violation of separation and zoning requirements, officials said.

Sometimes democratic

A provision—commonly known as the Harris Rider, named after its chief proponent, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Maryland—that prevents Washington, DC from legalizing recreational cannabis sales was left in an omnibus funding bill Congress passed earlier this month. DC residents voted to legalize cannabis through a 2014 ballot initiative and the next year, the rider was passed. Congressional Democrats pushed to do away with the provision this year, but it was reportedly reinstalled after opposition from Republicans. Residents are allowed to grow and consume their own cannabis but they can’t buy or sell it. Some local businesses use a legal loophole to bundle marijuana with another product or service, “gifting” it to customers and creating a gray market that the district can’t tax or regulate.

Case decline

Federal prosecutions over cannabis declined again last year, with fewer than 1,000 people charged in trafficking cases, according to an analysis from the US Sentencing Commission. Those cases accounted for 5.7% of the total drug-related cases in the federal justice system in fiscal year 2021. Federal cannabis cases have consistently been dropping in recent years. For comparison, there were more than 7,000 in 2012. “Although Congress has failed to amend federal cannabis laws, clearly the attitudes and priorities of federal prosecutors have shifted in the era of state-level marijuana legalization,” said Paul Armentato, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Now it’s time for federal lawmakers to codify these changes in priorities by descheduling marijuana.” The commission also found that the average sentence for a cannabis trafficking conviction was 30 months. That’s about half as long as sentences typically handed down for cases involving cocaine, fentanyl and heroin.

Possible risks

A study published in the journal JAMA Network Open last week raises questions about the effectiveness of medical marijuana to treat mood and anxiety disorders. The study followed 269 adults with an average age of 37 who wanted to obtain medical cards. They were divided into two groups. One was allowed to get cards and begin use immediately while the other group waited 12 weeks. Those who received cards immediately were twice as likely to develop cannabis use disorder, which is associated with dependence on cannabis. That group also reported “no significant changes in pain severity or anxiety or depressive symptoms.” They did report improvement in insomnia and greater well-being, but those benefits need more follow-up, researchers said. “Our study underscores the need for better decision-making about whether to begin to use cannabis for specific medical complaints, particularly mood and anxiety disorders, which are associated with an increased risk of cannabis use disorder,” said lead author Jodi Gilman.

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at]sfreporter.com. Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.