“So we were actually, I think, the fourth people to apply for a retail license. I was very much on top of it, clicking the apply section [of the state website] every day,” he said.
Novak said state regulators seem to have been well-intentioned as they created a recreational cannabis industry, but setting up his dream business hasn’t been a straightforward affair.
“If it weren’t for the fact that my wife and I were doing this together there might have been times throughout the process where I’d have been like,” said Novak as he mimed washing his hands of the whole thing. “The fourth time we got denied for a location getting a lease, I was like ‘I don’t know if this is going to happen.'”
The bar for entry has been higher than many advocates and lawmakers imagined when they crafted the framework upon which regulators would hang the rules that govern licensing.
“It has turned from a little complex to a lot complex,” said Tina M. Gooch, an attorney at Albuquerque’s Sutin, Thayer, Browne firm.
Gooch said getting a business license or sorting zoning issues has been harder than normal because cities and counties may pass their own rules for where cannabis-related businesses can be located. She also said that while the state has been fairly responsive to industry rule suggestions, changes happen fast.
“It requires a lot of paying attention to when changes occur. The emergency rulemaking is now happening weekly at some stages,” she said.
There are pluses and minuses to that regulatory responsiveness.
“It’s one of those…the Wild West, right?” she said. “I think the state means well. It’s trying to be adaptable, but for those of us in the legal profession trying to guide clients through the process and even for people trying to go it alone, it is making it more complex because you think the goalpost is in one location and now it’s moved.”
For example, a recent emergency rule from the Cannabis Control Division changed plant limits for some producers—but not all. It changed licensing requirements as well.
Gooch says she expects some “good chaos” once sales start April 1.
“I think that the state is going to continue trying to adapt so that people can open, people can sell, people can access what they need.”
Between existing medical licensees who are grandfathered into the recreational system and those new to the industry, New Mexico has approved 156 licenses for growers, manufacturers of refined cannabis products, couriers, labs and retailers. There are also microbusiness producers and vertically integrated licenses allowing a business to knit together various parts of a cannabis operation.
For the Novaks, the end of the preparation stage is near as the April 1 sales deadline approaches.
“At this point, we are eating, sleeping and breathing work” said Anna. “We both have other jobs that we do full-time, so we come here every evening, every morning, every weekend.”
Their leap of faith is that the effort will soon pay off.