The number of medical marijuana dispensaries in Las Cruces is set to double by the end of March, thanks to the recent or impending openings of three new stores.
A fourth new medical cannabis retail outlet is slated to open in Sunland Park in upcoming months.
The growth in dispensaries is driven by a spike in patient numbers, growing public awareness of the state’s medical cannabis program, and growing acceptance of marijuana as a treatment option, companies said.
The state’s medical marijuana program could be in jeopardy, some say, after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a 2013 directive by the Obama administration that allowed states to establish their own laws on marijuana use.
The new policy will allow federal prosecutors in states that have legalized marijuana for either recreational or medicinal uses to decide how aggressively to enforce existing federal law. It’s unclear how it would affect the state’s medical marijuana users and vendors.
But it hasn’t stopped a number of new dispensaries from opening in the Las Cruces area.
Up and running
The newest medical cannabis retailer, Sacred Garden, marked a grand opening Friday at its location, 642 S. Alameda Blvd., Ste. A. The parking lot was packed with cars for much of the day, and a steady stream of foot traffic passed through its doors. It’s the company’s first location in Las Cruces.
Sacred Garden had a soft opening Jan. 12, said Zeke Shortes, CEO/president of the organization. So far, he said it’s attracted a lot of interest.
“We’ve had a lot of repeat customers,” he said.
The 3,200-square-foot dispensary actually features two shops — one with non-THC-containing products, which is open to the general public, and another with the THC-containing products, only open to customers who have a state-issued medical cannabis card. THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana.
Sacred Garden doesn’t grow marijuana on site, but transports it from a growing site in Santa Fe.
Shortes said Sacred Garden made the decision to expand into Las Cruces because some medical marijuana patients had been traveling to Albuquerque, Sacred Garden’s nearest location, to buy products. But federal checkpoints near Las Cruces, even though they don’t affect southbound drivers, still make people uneasy about carrying marijuana, even for medical purposes. Plus, he said there’s a demand for the roughly 100 product types created by Sacred Garden. The company focuses on made-from-scratch products, including tinctures and salves.
“We offer a breadth and depth of products they don’t have down here,” he said.
Friday, Jose Aguilar of El Paso waited for his girlfriend, a Sunland Park resident who’s a medical cannabis patient, in the parking lot of Sacred Garden. He said Las Cruces was the closest place she could find to get a supply of medical marijuana. The fact there are new dispensaries shows medical marijuana is becoming more widely accepted, he said.
“I’m very happy people are getting what they need and off the opiates,” he said, referring to prescription painkillers that can be addictive.
Sacred Garden becomes the fourth medical marijuana dispensary in Las Cruces. Others are Mother Earth Herbs, 755 South Telshor Blvd., F201; MJ Express-O, 755 S. Telshor Blvd., Ste. 102A; and Pecos Valley Production, 2460 Locust St., Ste. I. Another company doesn’t have a dispensary but does deliver to clients in Las Cruces.
Vivian Moore, with Mother Earth Herbs, said she’s not sure why the new dispensaries have chosen Las Cruces over more under-served areas of New Mexico, “but they have and it is certainly a benefit to all patients.”
“The more different producers there are in an area, the more selection,” she said. “Mother Earth Herbs is grateful to every patient that has walked through our doors, and we look forward to continuing to serve patient needs for years to come.”
A fifth dispensary, Budding Hope, is slated to open on Conway Avenue in Las Cruces, said Mario Gonzales, president of the organization. He said the shop is awaiting an inspection from the state department of health, which regulates dispensaries, and could open any day.
Gonzales said the Las Cruces area has been underserved for medical cannabis since the state launched its medical marijuana program. Part of that may be due to the proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border and heightened drug enforcement, he said. Also, patient numbers are growing, as more people learn the process for obtaining a medical marijuana card and more doctors are willing to sign off on the paperwork need to get a card.
But with the new dispensaries in Las Cruces, the situation is changing, Gonzales said.
“It seems like the access is really opening up for the patients of Las Cruces,” he said.
Budding Hope in Las Cruces will be a dispensary only, at least in the beginning, Gonzales said. But it might eventually establish a growing site.
A sixth medical marijuana dispensary, Ultra Health, is slated to open in Pan Am Plaza, 1719 E. University Ave., Ste. 13B, in late March. Ultra Health plans to open a different dispensary in Sunland Park in late February or early March.
Marissa Novel, communications manager for Ultra Health, said the company’s goal is to eventually have a retail store in every county.
“From our perspective, we believe every market is under-served if we aren’t there, just because we do provide patients those products that aren’t available anywhere else,” he said.
The Las Cruces dispensary will be Ultra Health’s 10th in the state.
“We do think this will be one of our most impressive locations, given the renovations we’re going to do there,” she said.
The number of medical marijuana patients in New Mexico has topped 46,600, a more than 60 percent increase over the past year.
Novel said patients’ knowledge about medical marijuana as a treatment option has been growing over the years, and there’s been more publicity about it, which factors into the growth.
“It’s really becoming more mainstream, I would say,” she said.
There are 21 medical conditions that can lead to a person obtaining a medical marijuana card.
Glenn Moore of Las Cruces checked out the new Sacred Garden dispensary Friday on behalf of his wife, who is battling cancer. They’ve also bought medical cannabis from Mother Earth Herbs and MJ Express-O. The products help relieve the pain she experiences from the disease, he said.