Dispensaries have gone from tiny store fronts to spacious showrooms.
BY TOM SHARPE
I was a little nervous about my first legal pot buy, so I waited until almost a week after getting my card from the state Medical Cannabis Program to visit one of Santa Fe’s five dispensaries. (Albuquerque has 23 of the state’s 56.)
I had first stopped by New Mexicann Natural Medicine four years ago when it was in a tiny storefront in a building shared with a fancy bistro off San Mateo Road.
There were no signs. I had to ask if it was a medical cannabis dispensary. No cannabis or paraphernalia was on display. Two clerks behind a plain counter showed me a menu. You ordered, they retrieved it from the back room and brought it to you in a bag — like a pharmacy, only more tense. When they found out I had no card, they asked me to leave.
Now things are different. After a fire in its Lena Street kitchen while producing hash oil, New Meixcann, which also has shops in Española, Taos and Las Vegas, consolidated its Santa Fe operations into a new, walled compound at the dead end of San Mateo Lane.
There are two modern territorial-style buildings — a spacious showroom and a state-of-the-art kitchen, separated by a graveled plaza. Behind another wall, out of sight, is the growing area.
Inside the showroom, glass cabinets display various types and amounts of packaged cannabis and cannabis products along with pipes, vaporizers, t-shirts, hats and other wares. The shop has the air of a high-end musical instrument shop.
The clerks were friendly and knowledgeable about the differences in the types of cannabis — sativa with more tetrahydrocannabinol or THC that produces the psychoactive high, and indica with more of cannabidiol or CBD that is calming, sleep inducing and painkilling. The menu identifies the different types in red for THC and green for CBD. Nobody asked me for my card until it was time to buy.
Prices ranged from $11.43 for one gram to $320 for an ounce of flower or bud. (Marijuana, Spanish slang for cannabis, goes for as little as $250 an ounce on the black market.) There was also loose kief, hashish, hash oil, ready-rolled joints, small metal vaporizers already loaded with cannabis oils, cannabis suppositories, tinctures and edibles like “Ganja Bears” (like Gummy Bears), “Weed Itz” (cheese crackers), chocolate fudge, peanut butter cookies and “Hi-biscus” tea.
I bought a gram of sativa/indica hybrid called “Cannatonic” (3,33 percent THC, 9.68 percent CBD) sealed in a plastic envelope. Because it was my first purchase, I got a discount, so my bill, including sales tax, was $9.75.
A week later, I was in Truth or Consequences when I found myself walking by one of the state’s newest dispensaries. MJ Expresso is located in the historic downtown and hot springs district.
The atmosphere is more restrictive than in Santa Fe. You wait in a lobby where you can peruse a menu or see it projected onto a video screen. When it’s your turn, you approach the window, give a clerk your order and pay. They bring it to you in a brown bag. Each of their gram envelopes is marked with the name of the client and the product.
Instead of using percentages of THC and CBD, MJ Expresso uses milligrams. I bought one gram of indica flower called “Purple Kush” for $11. Because it was my first purchase there, I got another gram of sativa flower “Jack Frost” for free. My total bill with tax was $11.94.
I have read numerous articles in recent years about how “medical grade” cannabis is far more powerful than the black market stuff from the 1960s. True, 48 years ago, when I was first introduced to marijuana, it was leaves, seeds, stems and an occasional flower bud. What I bought legally this summer was pure flower bud. But in my opinion, it wasn’t better than pure flower buds grown in a home garden.
So I returned to New Mexicann in Santa Fe to buy the strongest thing in stock: an indica-dominant strain with 17.1 percent THC and .16 percent CBD, ominously labeled “LSD.” An eighth of an ounce was $40 plus tax. It’s worth the money. But don’t expect to get much accomplished after a pipeful of this.
Has it helped my sciatica? Well, I haven’t had any flareups for a while. I attribute that to regular bicycling and yoga, not cannabis. But just in case the aching returns, I’ll know what to turn to.
New Mexico became the first state in the nation to recognize cannabis as medicine in 1978. I recall taking a friend who had breast cancer to see the man in charge of the program for the State Police. The plan was to supply qualified patients with cannabis confiscated in busts of illegal growers.
But my friend, who has since died, never heard back. The program was cancelled in the 1980s due to a lack of funding.
In 2007, the New Mexico Legislature passed a new medical cannabis program. It took until early 2009 to develop a bureaucratic system for the distribution of cannabis. At first, dispensaries only delivered. New Mexicann was the first in the state to begin a retail operation.
By the end of 2012, when the state began keeping statistics on the program, 8,206 people were certified; 10,708 by 2013, 12,419 by 2014, 19,629 by 2015 and 29,646 by 2016. At the end of June, the number had increased to 44,404 — on target to break 50,000 by the end of the 2017.
Financial receipts are accelerating even faster, meaning customers are spending more: $15.7 million in 2013, $20 million in 2014, $30 million in 2015 and $47 million in 2016 and what is on track for $80 million this year.
Try to find any other industry in New Mexico, or elsewhere, with an accelerating annual increase approaching 70 percent. But don’t expect to invest easily in a dispensary. By state law, they are nonprofits, so they don’t offer stock.
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