New Mexico producers seeing green on medical pot sales

JoAna Vejil-Carrillo of Santa Fe buys baked goods and a chocolate bar from Ben Ellsworth, a cannabis consultant at Minerva Canna Group’s Cerrillos Road shop, in February. Minerva was among the top-grossing medical marijuana producers in the state during the second quarter of this year. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

Corrections appended

Patients in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program spent more than $27 million on their medication in April, May and June of this year, according to second-quarter reports submitted by producers to the state Health Department.

Some of the highest revenue numbers come from medical marijuana producers doing business in Santa Fe. These include Ultra Health, which operates multiple dispensaries in New Mexico; Minerva Canna Group, which has a total of four stores around the state; and Sacred Garden, which has dispensaries in three cities

While most nonprofit medical marijuana producers made profits, 12 of them — more than a third of the licensed producers in the state — reported being in the red when it comes to net profits for the quarter. Five of those reported losses of $100,000 or more. Shift New Mexico, which has one store each in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, reported the biggest net loss in the second quarter: $195,472.

Just two years ago, when the state Health Department began publishing quarterly revenue reports of producers in the Medical Cannabis Program, total sales were only $10.2 million in the first quarter of 2016, according to the Santa Fe Reporter. Back then, there were only 23 licensed producers reporting, compared with 34 who filed reports for the most recent quarter. The number of registered patients was only about 25,000, compared with more than 58,000 as of the end of July, the Health Department reports.

State Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, who carried the bill that created the Medical Cannabis Program, said he’s not surprised by the success of marijuana dispensaries.

“Medical marijuana has exploded in acceptance,” he said in an interview last week. “People of my generation and young people have long accepted it. Now older people are using cannabis for medical purposes. It’s almost universally accepted.”

Emily Kaltenbach, director of the state branch of the national nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, said the large sales numbers for medical marijuana shows more people are finding the drug “a legitimate medicine for many conditions.” Medical marijuana, she said, has been helpful in getting many people away from opioids and other stronger, more dangerous medicines.

The most successful producer in the state — in terms of gross sales — in the latest batch of financial reports was Ultra Health Those two shops sold nearly $5 million in marijuana products in the second quarter.

In terms of net profits, Compassionate Distributors, which operates four dispensaries in southeastern New Mexico, was No. 1. The company had a net profit of more than $671,000. R. Greenleaf, which has five shops in Albuquerque and one in Grants, netted just a few hundred dollars less.

Santa Fe’s Fruit of the Earth Organics, one of the city’s oldest dispensaries, opening in 201 on Early Street near downtown Santa Fe.1, was the highest-grossing producer in the city with only one retail location during the last quarter. Lyra Barron, owner of Fruit of the Earth, expressed surprise when she learned this fact from The New Mexican.

Barron said Friday she thinks one reason for her success is that her marijuana is grown organically outdoors on property in Santa Fe County, “with the birds and butterflies.” Most producers grow in greenhouses.

“We only have 350 plants,” she said. Producers are allowed to grow up to 450 plants. She described her plants as “giant trees,” saying some are 15 feet tall. This allows Fruit of the Earth to produce more marijuana from fewer plants.

“One thing this allows us to do is properly cure the plants,” she said. “Marijuana should be cured for six months to a year.”

The entire budget for the Medical Cannabis Program is derived from annual fees paid by producers. This year, the state took in $2.91 million in producer fees. Most producers — those growing the maximum allowed — pay an annual fee of $90,000. The handful of producers growing fewer plants pay as little as $40,000 for their annual license.

McSorley said the amount of money spent on marijuana would go through the roof if the state legalizes recreational use of the drug for adults.

“With New Mexico sitting next to Texas, which may not legalize marijuana in our lifetimes, it would be a huge boon, not only for government coffers but also for the tourist industry,” he said. “People would come here [from Texas] in caravans. It’ll help mom-and-pop hotels and restaurants.”

Although legislative efforts to legalize recreational marijuana have fizzled in the New Mexico Legislature in the past, McSorley said he believes there are now enough votes among state lawmakers for legalization.

Kaltenbach has been sitting on a task force charged with recommending changes to the Medical Cannabis Program to an interim legislative committee. Some possible recommendations, she said, include adding more conditions that qualify patients for the program, such as opioid addiction; eliminating a requirement that patients must reregister every year; and increasing access for patients in rural areas, including Native American pueblos and reservations.

McSorley in 2017 introduced a bill that contained similar recommendations. But it never got out of the Legislature.

“The [cannabis] industry is becoming more sophisticated,” Kaltenbach said. “And the patients are better informed about seeking out products that work.”

Top grossing medical marijuana producers

Ultra Health (1 location in Santa Fe, 5 in Albuquerque, and 1 each in Bernalillo, Alamogordo, Silver City, Clovis and Hobbs The company also has built stores in Española, Las Cruces, Farmington, Roswell, Los Lunas or Sunland Park.), $3,973,486 

R. Greenleaf (5 locations in Albuquerque, 1 in Grants), $3,003,954

Verdes Foundation (1 location in Albuquerque, 1 in Rio Rancho), $1,824,462

Sacred Garden (1 location in Santa Fe, 1 in Albuquerque, 1 in Las Cruces), $1,664,620

Minerva (1 location in Santa Fe, 1 in Albuquerque, 1 in Bernalillo, 1 in Los Lunas), $1,584,824

Purlife (2 locations in Albuquerque) $1,551,743

MJ Express-o (1 location in Albuquerque, 1 in Las Cruces, 1 in Truth or Consequences), $1,379,556

Urban Wellness, (2 locations in Albuquerque), $1,267,016

New Mexicann (1 location in Santa Fe, 1 in Española, 1 in Las Vegas, 1 in Taos), $1,167,294

Natural RX (1 location in Albuquerque, 1 in Rio Rancho, 1 in Los Lunas, 1 in Socorro), $1,116,216

Marijuana producers with highest net profits

Compassionate Distributers (1 location each in Ruidoso, Roswell, Carlsbad and Alamogordo), $671,654

R Greenleaf, $671,141

Natural RX, $558,265

MJ Express-o, $320,803

High Desert Relief, $249,962

Best Daze. (1 location in Santa Fe), $158,358

Verdes Foundation, $154,839

Seven Clover, (1 location in Albuquerque), $113,333

Sandia Botanicals, (1 location in Albuquerque), $101,547

Purlife, $98,412

In the red

Shift NM (1 location in Santa Fe, 1 in Albuquerque), -$195,472

SW Wellness (1 location in Albuquerque, 1 in Taos), -$164,702

New Mexicann, -$140,093.

Kure (1 location in Santa Fe), -$131,694

Red Barn (1 location in Santa Fe, 1 in Gallup), -$104,010

Seven Point Farms (1 location in Socorro), -$41,668

Everest Apothecary (2 locations in Albuquerque), -$39,645

Grass Roots (1 location in Albuquerque, 1 in Grants), -$38,816

Minerva, -$35,803

CGC (1 location in Santa Fe, 1 in Albuquerque, 1 in Placitas) -$26,798

Healthy Education Society (1 location in Albuquerque, 1 in Artesia, 1 in Carlsbad, 1 in Hobbs) -$17,431

G&G Genetics (1 in Grants) $1,625

Source: Second quarter reports submitted to the state Health Department.

Correction: This story has been amended to reflect the following corrections. Because of an erroneous figure used in counting gross income totals, the previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Urban Wellness was the top grossing producer in the state. Actually it's ranked seventh in that category. Ultra Health was the top grossing producer.

The incorrect high number calculated for Urban Wellness caused the statewide gross income total to be incorrect. The correct figure is more than $27 million.

The original version did not specify that Ultra Health's locations in in Española, Las Cruces, Farmington, Roswell, Los Lunas or Sunland Park are awaiting approval from the state and have not begun operating.

Also, the gross income for Santa Fe’s Fruit of the Earth Organics was incorrect. Actually, the dispensary's gross profit for the second quarter was $561,495. The $1 million figure included in the original version of the story was the dispensary’s gross profit for the first and second quarters combined.

While Fruit of the Earth is still the the highest-grossing producer in Santa Fe with only one retail location during the last quarter, Albuquerque’s Seven Clover dispensary actually took in more.

Also, Purlife, an Albuquerque dispensary with two stores, actually had a much higher numbers than were reported. Purlife grossed $1.5 million, according to its report.