New Mexico cannabis sales topped $40 million in July. Is it growing quickly enough?

One of New Mexico's largest producers and retailers says prices aren't competing with illegal market

Algernon D'Ammassa
Las Cruces Sun-News

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office hailed cannabis revenue numbers from July last week, as total reported sales topped $40 million for the first time since New Mexico's regulated marketplace opened sales of adult-use cannabis.

One of New Mexico's largest cannabis producers and retailers, Ultra Health, signaled concern over the progress over the fledgling industry.

The July numbers represented an increase following a dip in June, but gross medical cannabis sales have deteriorated since April while recreational cannabis sales have grown by 5.8 percent since April as more retailers have entered the market.

In July, medical products accounted for $16.8 million of total sales reported to New Mexico's Cannabis Control Division. That's on a level with $16.5 million reported in June, which declined nearly $1 million from April and May.

Non-medical sales for adults age 21 and older amounted to $23.5 million per CCD reporting, compared to $22.1 million during the first month of legal transactions.

The Las Cruces 420 Hemp and Cannabis Festival featured over 40 vendors and a couple hundred estimated attendees throughout the day at Sassy Grass Juice Bar and Lounge on April 20, 2022.

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Dispensaries operated in 51 municipalities — up from 40 in April — with the highest reported revenues in Albuquerque ($14.6 million in total), Santa Fe ($3.5 million), Las Cruces ($3.3 million), Hobbs and Rio Rancho (both around $1.6 million).

Adult use cannabis sales are subject to state and local gross receipts taxes as well as New Mexico's cannabis excise tax. Medical cannabis sales are tax-free. In July, the state Tax and Revenue Department collected returns from 149 retailers for total excise taxes of $2,472,376.45, in addition to GRT that varies based on local tax rates.

When ranked in order of recreational sales alone, which are taxable (unlike medical sales), those cities lined up similarly except that Rio Rancho was displaced by Sunland Park, which posted $1.2 million in adult use sales to Rio Rancho's $742,725. Sunland Park is among the municipalities where dispensaries operate close to the Texas, where cannabis remains illegal under state law for all but limited medical uses. (Cannabis is also prohibited under federal law.)

In a statement, Lujan Grisham exulted: "We've established a new industry that is already generating millions of dollars in local and state revenue and will continue to generate millions more in economic activity across the state, creating thousands of jobs for New Mexicans in communities both small and large."

Hashtag Cannabis opened on 4/20, offering free T-shirts to the first 50 customers and free hot dogs to all patrons. The dispensary sells two strains of cannabis, both locally grown in Las Cruces that are exclusive to Hashtag Cannabis and the grower's dispensary in Anthony.

'Nowhere near our true potential'

Duke Rodriguez, Ultra Health's CEO, is not celebrating just yet.

"The results are nowhere near our true potential," he observed. "At best it rates a report card grade of maybe a C."

The modest increase came during a month with five Fridays and with adult-use sales opening in new communities, he pointed out. "What we are actually seeing, sadly, is that the average purchase per consumer is on a downward trend. We're mitigating that downward trend by bringing up new markets that we previously weren't serving. So the results are more disturbing than they are encouraging."

"Montana, with only half the adult population of New Mexico and without the benefit of Texas at the doorstep, did $19.2 million," he added, arguing combined New Mexico sales should be far higher by now ― perhaps around $50 million.

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Ultra Health president and chief executive officer Duke Rodriguez is seen at the company's greenhouse in Bernalillo, N.M. on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

He also expressed concern over declining medical cannabis purchases over the past year and decreased participation in the state's medical cannabis program, which peaked at 135,388 cardholders in May but has receded each month since to 130,128 in July.

Rodriguez says the monthly reports from regulators, accompanied by triumphant news releases, are useful largely as a preliminary outlook and that data on collected tax revenues, and the number of active operators filing returns, are a better indicator of true economic activity.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez argued that New Mexico's market may be saturated with operators relative to some local populations, while cannabis plant count limits — the maximum number of plants producers may cultivate, which has been challenged in court by Ultra Health and other litigators — limit supply and push prices upward.

Plant count limits have also been defended as a way to level the field for new entrants into the marketplace, including operators much smaller than Ultra Health, as part of the Cannabis Regulation Act's social justice imperative.

But Rodriguez says another purpose of the law, to combat illegal sales or unregulated product, is being neglected. With prices per gram as high as they are before taxes, Rodriguez said the "illicit market" can easily set its prices lower — by as much as half per gram of cannabis, he claimed.

"We will never be competitive with the illicit market until we can be more competitive with the amount of product, the quality of the product and the price of the product," he said.

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Algernon D'Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, adammassa@lcsun-news.com or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.