Just over a week before cannabis retailers in New Mexico can begin selling goods for recreational use to adults 21 and over, the state agency charged with overseeing the industry said there is plenty of the product available to meet consumer demand.
The Cannabis Control Division of the state Regulation and Licensing Department said New Mexico cannabis producers have reported well over 1 million mature plants — 1,013,178, to be exact — in a statewide tracking system designed to calculate plant growth.
That would be twice the supply an official has said is needed to ensure stores are adequately stocked for recreational-use customers, as well as about 132,000 patients enrolled in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program. Linda Trujillo, superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department, told lawmakers last summer the state needs at least 500,000 plants to meet initial demand.
But some of the state’s top cannabis growers are skeptical of the million-plant count.
Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health, called the number “impossible.”
Licensed cannabis producers — there are under 100 — don’t have the capacity to grow that many plants, Rodiguez said, adding it would take “football fields after football fields” of land to grow more than a million plants.
The growers would have to average over 10,000 mature plants each to reach the state’s number. While Ultra Health, the largest cannabis operation in New Mexico, tops that average, with 26,000 mature plants as of Tuesday, Rodriguez noted many producers are microbusinesses that can only grow up to 200 plants.
Another longtime producer, the Verdes Foundation, reported fewer than 1,430 mature plants.
“If there are a million cannabis plants in the state, I don’t know where they are,” said Jason Greathouse, co-owner of Pecos Valley Production, headquartered in Roswell. “Are they legal plants? Are they illegal plants?”
Pecos Valley is one of the top cannabis producers in the state, Greathouse said, and “I only have 3,000 plants in the ground.” By June, he expects to have 20,000.
Heather Brewer, a spokeswoman for the Cannabis Control Division, said Tuesday the agency stands by its numbers, culled from a software program called BioTrack.
Cannabis producers enter their data into the system, she said, so “assuming all the information was appropriately entered, that number is accurate.”
State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an Albuquerque independent and a supporter of legalizing recreational cannabis, said he questions the reliability of the plant count figures. Among other issues, he said, the state is relying on self-reporting by producers and is not yet able to conduct site visits to audit and confirm the number of mature plants.
Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, argued another point — plant counts might not be the right measure for determining how much cannabis is needed or available.
One big tree can produce 60 pounds of cannabis, while a smaller plant might produce only 6 pounds, he said.
It’s better to take into account the amount of space both flowers and plants in production take up, known as a canopy model, Lewinger said.
Other states look at the weight of cannabis produced. Colorado, which legalized recreational cannabis in 2012, reported 3.7 million plants producing more than 1.8 million pounds of cannabis in 2020.
Kristen Thomson, director of New Mexico’s Cannabis Control Division, said last week she had no concerns about meeting the expected demand.
But the possibility of the state running short — at least in the first few days or weeks of legal sales — has remained a concern for many stakeholders.
Among them are patients and advocates of the Medical Cannabis Program.
Retailers offering products for recreational use are required to set aside 20 percent of their goods for medical patients.
“Can they guarantee me on April 1 there will be a 90-day cannabis supply for me and another 130,000 patients beyond me?” asked medical cannabis patient Jason Barker.
“They should be able to say on April 1 that every patient has a 90-day guaranteed supply. They should have an accurate [plant] count.”