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Brian Vicente keynotes cannabis convention


The Southwest Cannabis Trade Association, a nonprofit supporting cannabis and cannabis-adjacent businesses in the region, has organized for a second year an industry convention in Las Cruces on Saturday.

The group — founded in 2021 by Nicole Fuchs, Robert Duran and Glen Astrove — meets bimonthly and typically hosts a presenting speaker. Saturday will bring the second annual Southwest Cannabis Convention at the Las Cruces Convention Center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with speakers and panels on cannabis advocacy, a “cannabis wellness” panel and a presentation on the “growing pains” of establishing a cultivation business. Fuchs told the Las Cruces Bulletin the convention was expected to feature up to 100 exhibitors from around New Mexico.

The keynote speaker is Brian Vicente, a Denver-based attorney who played a leading role in drafting Colorado’s 2012 constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis for adult use. He had previously led the nonprofit Sensible Colorado, which advocated for the medical cannabis industry in that state. In an interview with the Bulletin, Vicente said he was involved, in some capacity, with current legal issues affecting the industry in several states, including New Mexico.

Previewing his speech, he said: “I’ll be speaking about how I wrote Colorado’s legalization law and ran that campaign … we’ll talk a bit about the buildup and how we got to that point, the structure of the law and how it influenced New Mexico and many other states … and then really talk about New Mexico’s role in particular, in terms of the economic impact it’s had on the state.”

New Mexico legalized cannabis for adults not by amending its constitution but through legislation signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in 2021. Medical cannabis had been authorized in the state since 2007. The new law legalized non-medical possession and use by adults at least 21 years old and called for an elaborate new regulatory framework for commercial production and sales, which opened for business in April 2022.

In March, state officials cheered as cumulative sales topped $1 billion. New Mexico’s approach has been criticized, however, for an over-saturated marketplace, prices too high to compete with the non-regulated “illicit” market and lax protections for medical cannabis products as enrollment in the program declined.

In a more recent development, Border Patrol agents at southern New Mexico checkpoints have been cracking down on the movement of legal cannabis product by growers, who have seen their supplies confiscated. Cannabis remains prohibited under federal law, even as the Biden Administration has moved toward loosening restrictions on the plant. In a two-month span this spring, the reported value of cannabis seizures amounted to $300,000. Navigating the conditions for the industry at the U.S.-Mexico border was among the topics Vicente planned to address Saturday, saying the issue is new and unique among states that have legalized cannabis.

“The only possible comparison I would throw out is last week, our law firm sued the Massachusetts state government because they were preventing cannabis from going on boats to go from the mainland to Martha’s Vineyard,” he said.

Vicente said data showing growth in the adult-use market, meaning sales of the plant through licensed dispensaries, indicated that more buyers were moving out of the underground market into regulated businesses. Besides assurance of product safety, Vicente said dispensaries offer better consumer choice: “if I walk into a store, I can buy 30 strains and I can get beverages …10 to 50 types of vaporizers, everything's there. So I think ultimately we're seeing a pretty big uptake of people transitioning into the (recreational) market in New Mexico.”

Vicente noted that states have taken unique approaches not only in how they legalized cannabis but how their state industries are regulated. New Mexico, for instance, eschewed license caps, maintained low barriers of entry for people entering the market and also limited local governments’ authority to impose restrictions that could effectively ban cannabis in their jurisdictions.

“That has led to a lot of businesses opening up, and I do think the state is going to see some sort of correction as folks realize that this is a pretty tough business to run,” he said.

Vicente said 800 to 1,000 attendees were anticipated for the convention, which would have a business emphasis although Vicente said he planned to talk about cannabis’ historical significance for New Mexico as well.

Information about the event is available online at TheSouthwestCannabisConvention.com.

Brian Vicente, cannabis convention, Southwest Cannabis Trade Association