Alibi V.29 No.29 • July 16-22, 2020 

Cannabis Manual

Marked Essential

A game changer for medical cannabis

Suddenly, Medical Cannabis—a business that currently has no access to banks, insurance, commercial lending and capital markets—is marked as an “essential business” during a pandemic. That’s a game changer, coupled with the fact that consumption of Medical Cannabis in New Mexico is booming. Despite many businesses taking a hit during the pandemic, medical cannabis dispensaries appear to have gotten a boost. Patients enrolled in the state’s medical cannabis programs have recently surpassed Colorado’s enrollment.

Medical Cannabis producers are reporting sales growths that would make any CEO proud. COVID has dramatically increased the demand for patients’ medicine. One of the unintended effects of the global pandemic could be that legislators, who are trying to figure out how they are going to deal with the hole in their budgets, can’t help but sit up and take notice.

Social distancing, stay at home directives, job loss, managing stress, pain and anxiety have all sent the built-in and growing cannabis customer base out to pick up their medicine at an unprecedented rate. Mark Hall, manager of the Albuquerque Minerva Canna dispensary on Gibson Blvd., said COVID-19 has hit communities and individuals hard, with no end in sight. “We've seen business start to boom, after the COVID pandemic began. They are using it to ease the tension from everything that they're hearing.”

Minerva Canna operates six dispensaries in New Mexico. “We are doing curbside, as well as having patients come in.” Hall says for most patients the dispensary is their only destination when they leave their homes. He and his staff have seen many patients use medicinal cannabis as a release from a lot of the information that's going around.

Ultra Health, which operates 23 medical cannabis dispensaries in New Mexico, has seen a dramatic increase in their sales that began in February. “We're currently up more than 82 percent over our sales for February, and we don't see the demand for medical cannabis slowing down any time soon,” said Marissa Novel, chief marketing officer for Ultra Health. Their revenue topped all producers in New Mexico with $6.1 million in patient sales for the first quarter.

New Mexico’s top 10 cannabis providers accounted for 71 percent of total patient sales. In the first quarter of 2020, they showed an increase of $12 million, or 43 percent over reported patient sales in the first quarter of 2019. Combined patient sales from the 34 licensed producers in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program totaled $40.1 million.

In spite of it all, the medical cannabis industry appears to be thriving in New Mexico. In doing so, it is showing how viable and essential the industry is in supporting the medical needs of its patients for medicine. Besides the pandemic driving sales up, Novel believes more people are choosing to enroll in the Medical Cannabis Program because they are seeking a healthier alternative to treat their debilitating conditions and symptoms. “We believe current patients are choosing to medicate responsibly with cannabis, which promotes a healthier way to relieve stress than many other alternatives.”

Highlighting the disconnect between federal and state policies, the corona pandemic and the attention it has drawn to the Medical Cannabis industry could herald legalization, support and protection for marijuana businesses. It could also create a resolution to the conflict between state and federal law so banks can provide services to cannabis-related businesses in states where it is legal. Under federal laws cannabis is a banned drug, and under many state laws it’s a medicine deemed just as essential as any other.

The SAFE Banking Act was already passed by the House as part of the (HEROES) Act. If passed by the Senate, the bill would make it easier for the cannabis industry to do business, so they can continue to provide services deemed essential during and after the coronavirus pandemic. Included in the bill was legislative language which would allow cannabis businesses to work freely with banks.

The built-in demand for cannabis products already exists. The United Nations' World Drug Report found that cannabis was the world's most widely produced, trafficked and consumed drug in the world in 2010. In 2015 it further identified that there were between 128 million and 238 million users globally. COVID-19 has highlighted the need for Medical Cannabis and the medicinal benefit that it has to offer individuals and the community.

With skyrocketing sales, the marijuana tax fund could be one of a few bright spots in the state’s budget. New Mexico’s budding cannabis industry is growing stronger during COVID, and as such, has the potential to create new jobs and supply millions of dollars in state tax revenue. With COVID-19 costs rising daily, and revenue for the gas and oil industry dropping, a green leaf plug just might help shore up a very large hole in New Mexico’s state budget.

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