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Local businesses don’t get equal chance


The top priority for our state’s leaders, not just this year but for the next several years, must be to diversify our economy and break free from our complete dependence on oil and gas revenue.

It was with that goal in mind that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called legislators back into a special session last year after the regular session had failed to produce legislation legalizing the sale and production of marijuana. The state’s nascent cannabis industry took its first steps Friday as doors opened to customers for the first time.

“This is an historic day for New Mexico -- the beginning of a new economic opportunity for entrepreneurs and communities across the state,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “...We have crafted a well-regulated industry that is creating jobs, spurring economic activity and generating revenue for state and local governments.”

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, those opportunities will not be equally available to entrepreneurs in all parts of the state. Santa Fe and Albuquerque will, once again, have an unfair advantage.

That’s because the state began its foray into this new industry with just two state-approved laboratories in place to perform the tests needed before the product can be sold to the public. One is in Albuquerque, the other is in Santa Fe.

For growers in rural parts of the state, the lack of a nearby lab creates an additional burden and expense. But for those who live in Las Cruces and other communities south of the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints, the risks can be far greater.

Under existing federal law, Border Patrol agents can confiscate both the product and the profits of entrepreneurs, according to a recent story by New Mexico Political Report.

We can, and should, rail against the federal government for drug laws that reflect the best collective knowledge of the 1950s. It is beyond ridiculous that marijuana, a Schedule 1 drug, is considered more dangerous than Schedule 2 drugs like cocaine, fentanyl and oxycodone.

We can, and should, expect Border Patrol agents to respect the will of the communities where they serve, although there is no indication that they intend to do so.

But this isn’t on the feds. State leaders knew what the federal laws were, and should have ensured that needed services were in place for southern New Mexico businesses. You can bet they would have if it were businesses in Albuquerque or Santa Fe being jeopardized.

This isn’t the first time state economic development plans have left out most of the state. During the Richardson administration, we began giving generous tax credits to lure film production to New Mexico. And, a new industry started to grow -- almost exclusively in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Las Cruces was late to the party, but has recently started to take advantage of the credits. Taxpayers everywhere else in the state continue to pay into a fund to prop up an industry that will never benefit them. That focus needs to change if we expect this new industry to benefit the entire state.

We can‘t have a well-regulated cannabis industry without adequate testing capacity. It’s up to state leaders to find a solution that allows entrepreneurs throughout the state to take advantage of this new industry.  

Walter Rubel is a freelance journalist based in Las Cruces. His 40-plus-year career includes work in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and— since 2002 — in New Mexico, covering Las Cruces and the state Legislature. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Las Cruces Bulletin. Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.

Walt Rubel