Officials stress rough road for cannabis

PORTALES — The Clovis-Portales area is expected to host the state’s third-largest market for legalized recreational cannabis projects when retail sales begin in April, but snags with the licensing of growers in the state could mean shortages of products on retail shelves. That’s according to Curt Jaynes, who plans to be a grower of marijuana crops in the area.

Jaynes spoke on a panel forecasting the legalized cannabis industry for the area during a Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce luncheon Friday at Eastern New Mexico University.

The panel included representatives of marijuana growers and retail cannabis dispensaries, as well as Portales City Manager Sarah Austin and Ryan Roark, director of distance learning at Eastern New Mexico University.

Karl Terry, the Portales chamber director, said the cannabis industry will bring the area into a “brave new world,” but panel members stressed the road to that world may be rough.

Nancy Evanhoff, a dispensary operator, said her biggest problem at present is “cities not working with us” on their respective licensing and permitting processes. The state Regulatory and Licensing Department, however, has been helpful, she said.

Jaynes said he and others have faced obstacles related to reporting projected electricity use, security camera deployment and other requirements. Out of 97 applications that have been filed with the state, only three licenses have been issued.

With licensing and permitting dragging for producers, Jaynes said, there is a high danger of supply shortages when retail operations begin in April, especially since supplies sold in New Mexico must be grown in New Mexico. Because cannabis products are still illegal under federal law, Jaynes said, “you can’t cross state lines.”

Another obstacle could be a shortage of properly trained employees to work in cannabis businesses, but Roark said ENMU is looking into designing courses for the training and licensing of cannabis staff to meet state requirements.

ENMU is working with the state’s Cannabis Control Division to design curriculum modules aligning with licensing regulations and hopes to have them in place by January.

There are also problems related to banking and federal taxes, dispensary owner Melanie Dean said, because of the federal stance on cannabis.

“We can’t process credit cards,” she said, and in all of New Mexico there are only two banks that will take cannabis business accounts. That means most transactions will be cash-only.

Additionally, cannabis businesses may not be able to make the same federal deductions on taxes as other businesses.

Despite current snags in their progress, though, the cannabis business representatives were uniformly positive about the impact of cannabis on local economies, especially in the Clovis-Portales area where business from Texas is likely to be brisk.

“The biggest impact will be in job creation,” dispensary owner Rich Chambers said. ”People want to be in industry they can benefit from.”

In an area where median family income is about $37,000 per year, he said, jobs that pay $14 to $18 an hour will be in high demand. Few employers in the area offer pay that high, he said.

“It’s a really fun industry to be in,” said Dean, who anticipated economic growth to be “massive at every level.”

Evanhoff said there would be no shortage of people wanting to work, even if they move from other states to take jobs.

“Now is the time to get into the business,” she said.

Jaynes said the state projects cannabis sales could be as high as $250 million a year. In addition, he said, Texas visitors are likely to visit non-cannabis businesses, adding even more to the local economy.

Terry, the chamber’s director, asked Austin what the new industry could mean in tax revenues.

Austin said it is too early to tell, but city officials are hopeful that new tax revenues could pay for extra police officers and firefighters to handle the consumer traffic.

“It’ll be a year, two years to see how it works financially,” she said, but the impact is expected to be positive.

Chambers said crime problems are likely to escalate, as they would in any area experiencing a boom.

“If you have a population of 30,000 and you get 70,000 or more people coming around, you’ll have more crime and more accidents,”

Chambers said, but he echoed Austin’s point about tax revenues helping to add police officers and firefighters.

Terry also asked about the impact of the cannabis industry on power and water supplies.

Austin said questions about water use, impact on wastewater systems, and electric power use are still unanswered. Solar power use by growers would help ease power demand, she said.

For his indoor growing areas, Jaynes said he will use energy-efficient LED lights, but he expects his electricity use to be high.

“We’ve got to be a green operation,” Jaynes said, noting state regulations.

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