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What’s the real state aroma?


Now that New Mexico has an official state aroma, I’m already having second thoughts about its accuracy.

The state legislature passed the measure in its 2023 session naming the smell of roasting green chile as the aroma of the Land of Enchantment. As do most New Mexicans, I love this scent. When it pervades the state in August into September, we all break out into a grin, and quite possibly a drool.

But that’s the problem. This aroma only drifts across our air a few weeks out of the year.

There’s another aroma, decidedly less pleasant, that is now drifting around all year long. It’s the smell of burning marijuana. Since marijuana became legal a year ago, it’s difficult to go a day without getting a cannabis whiff or two, making it less enjoyable to drive with your windows down.

A few years ago, I wrote a column for our sister publication, Desert Exposure, saying legalized marijuana might actually help our state, and give us a leg up on something, since we seem to be behind on everything. A year into it, the state has seen about $300 million in adult-use cannabis sales, which translates into about $30 million in excise taxes for our state’s general fund and to municipalities.

I think now I regret endorsing the “bad herb,” as one of my college friends used to call it. Sure, there is some revenue, but how many more cannabis businesses are going to open and close in the next year? We’re already known as the Land of Mañana. Was it wise to do something that can make about 15-20 percent of our population even more laid back and mellow?

But for me, the worst part is that nasty smell.

A lot of people dismiss these “official state” declarations. But I believe they help give states an identity.

You know by now our Official State Question is “Red or Green?” The other day, while dining at Mi Pueblito restaurant, I realize “Red or Green?” is not the slam dunk I thought it was. Simply in ordering enchilada plate, you can be hit with multiple questions besides that one. “Flat or rolled?” “Refrito or barracho?” “Corn or flour?” “Onions?” “An egg?” (and, if yes, “How would you like it cooked?”). If you order iced tea, you might hear “Sweet or unsweet?”

Occasionally you’ll hear “Hot or mild?” That’s not really a question for me, or most New Mexicans, but I suppose it’s an indicator of how many tourists a restaurant serves.

There are other New Mexico questions that don’t deal with food.

“Aggies or Lobos?” Growing up in Oklahoma, where “Cowboys or Sooners?” is a question, the answer is easy for me, a graduate of Oklahoma State University who transplanted to New Mexico in 1995. I always go with Pistol Pete.

And then there’s that one question we all hate to hear, “Do you know how fast you were going?”