4 Investigates: Cashing in on cannabis

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In the year since New Mexico legalized recreational cannabis, the state has collected nearly $46 million dollars in excise and gross receipts taxes from the industry.

Using 10 months’ worth of data provided by the New Mexico Tax and Revenue Department, 4 Investigates determined the legalization has been a boon for border cities and towns like Sunland Park near Las Cruces. With a population of less than 20,000 people, the town has cashed in on its proximity to Texas. It easily eclipsed the half-million-dollar mark in excise tax alone from April 2022 to this January.

“In those border towns, we are seeing the impact of people coming across the border and it’s definitely contributing to those local economies in a way that does grow the economic pie in New Mexico,” said Stephanie Schardin Clarke, secretary of the department.

With New Mexico awash in surplus cash as lawmakers arrived at the Roundhouse 10 weeks ago, some people chalked up the windfall to not only robust oil prices and record production from New Mexico’s part of the Permian Basin, but to cannabis. That’s a stretch. Oil – and to a much smaller extent, natural gas – measures its contributions to state revenue not in millions, but in billions.

“I think probably a rounding error, to tell you the truth,” said state Sen. Gregg Schmedes. The Tijeras Republican said he’d like to see the true impact of recreational cannabis studied in years to come.

Schardin Clarke agreed, but noted not every new industry needs to be stacked up against oil and gas and said any diversification away from the boom-bust nature of extractive industries is welcome.

New Mexico took pains to carve out a place in the new industry for smaller businesses.

Anna and Dan Novak’s “The Bad Company” is among them, and the couple – both experienced businesspeople – told 4 Investigates their foray into recreational marijuana has been a mixed bag.

“Having the doors open has been really gratifying, and seeing the people and getting the feedback has been incredible,” said owner Anna Novak. “Although I would say that the day-to-day business is… it’s a challenge as well.”

When the couple opened for business, Dan Novak said they had a two-mile buffer to the closest rival dispensary.

“Now we knew that some were going to come in, but the sheer number… you go down Eubank and Juan Tabo and it’s mind-boggling,” he said. “I don’t have the latest numbers, but it’s well over 150 dispensaries just in Albuquerque.”

It’s not just competition for business, which the couple expected, but it’s become harder to find good employees to work at their business.

“People want to be in this industry, but it’s still work,” said Anna Novak.

Schmedes, the state senator, said he’s heard from construction businesses in his district that have had a hard time finding employees who don’t test positive for cannabis in a pre-work drug screening. He suspects the same is true for medical work and federal hiring – though he again reiterated his support for an in-depth study of the industry’s impacts.