Cannabis Control Division Requests Additional Funding | Local News
Much hinges on the state’s new Cannabis Control Division.
Created when New Mexico legalized recreational marijuana for adults last year, the fledgling agency was given the responsibility of laying the groundwork for a new industry that elected officials sold as a boon for the state, from creating jobs to increasing incomes.
A question from the start – and one that resurfaced at the Roundhouse – is whether the agency has enough money to do the work.
Competing budget proposals have thrust the issue into the spotlight.
The governor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 provides $6.5 million for the division; it would receive $2.6 million less for staff under the Legislative Finance Committee’s spending plan.
Agency officials are urging lawmakers to approve the larger budget.
“The stakes for this division are extremely high,” Victor Reyes, deputy superintendent of the state Department of Regulatory and Licensing, which oversees the division, told members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee on Tuesday. .
“If we want to see New Mexico’s state revenue generators, we need to be able to have a fully functioning division,” Reyes said. “Unfortunately, what is included in the LFC recommendation does not bring us closer to being able to operate a functional division that will be able to meet the health, safety, welfare requirements, the requirements for obtaining of a license that I think you all deserve and expect.”
The agency is expected to seek additional funding when it appears before the Senate Finance Committee on Monday.
Heather Brewer, spokeswoman for the division, said the additional money sought in the governor’s proposed budget would fund 35 new positions.
“The bulk of these positions would be compliance officers, those responsible for enforcing the rules and auditing and inspecting newly licensed cannabis operations, and professional staff who enforce packaging standards. , as well as implementing, maintaining and supporting the track and trace program,” she said. “It’s about the seed-for-sale program that we have in place, BioTrack, so that every little bit of what is legally defined as cannabis under the [law] is tracked from the moment it enters the ground to the moment it ends up in the hands of consumers.”
Other jobs are related to information technology and legal issues.
“We also need inspectors,” Brewer said. “This is particularly important because we go from 34 cannabis producers licensed under the medical program, when it was exclusively to [the state Department of Health], to date we have more than 300 applications pending [for recreational marijuana licenses], and 45 have already obtained a license. We’re looking at an approximate increase in the number of entities and licensees that the cannabis enforcement division will need to work with, oversee and support…so there’s a huge need for additional funding there. »
The budget proposal of the Legislative Finance Committee takes into account the total number of vacancies in the ministry.
“Right now they could fill about 35 [positions]“, said Eric Chenier, analyst for the committee.
The division currently employs around 10 people, although staff from other parts of the ministry also provide support to the agency.
“The staff we have is amazing,” Brewer said. “They work hard. They work nights and weekends. They undertake the daunting task of setting up a whole new regulatory structure and implementing it under a very tight deadline and under intense public scrutiny. .”
But the agency needs the increased budget for additional staff “in order to [existing employees] to get the support they need to keep going and keep up the momentum and build on the success we’ve already had,” she added.
At the House Appropriations and Finance Committee meeting, some lawmakers expressed support for giving the agency additional resources.
Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, said the agency’s insufficient funding has been a problem from the start.
“When we funded the cannabis program, we knew we didn’t have enough money,” she said. “He came back to get us. I think I normally listen to LFC… but I think that agency is clearly not funded with the job description they have.”
Under New Mexico’s Cannabis Regulation Act, sales of cannabis for adult use must begin no later than April 1.