Shawn Carden had never thought to try cannabis before April 1. The 44-year-old lifelong resident of Santa Fe was told for most of his life that marijuana was a dangerous and evil drug. That sentiment came not only from his parents, but from elected officials down the street.
When Carden stepped up to the front door at Southwest Cannabis Dispensary on the first day of adult-use sales in his home state, he glanced at the New Mexico State Capitol, kitty-corner across the street. He let out a short chuckle as he reflected on the irony of the moment.
“I think it’s safe to say everyone’s on board now,” he quipped. Turning back to the door and the decisions he’d soon have to make—flower or concentrates, a cannabis chocolate bar or an infused soda—Carden struck a more serious tone. “Honestly, I never thought I’d be here doing this. Or that a day like this would ever come.”
The Santa Fe native was one of nearly 42,000 adults to commemorate the first day of adult-use sales in the Land of Enchantment with a legal dispensary purchase. Carden had to wait 45 minutes at Southwest Cannabis on the big day, but others stood in line for up to two hours at some of the state’s 118 open stores for the chance to make history.
After passing House Bill 2 on March 31 of last year, New Mexico took a full 12 months to get the new industry launched. But the pent-up demand made it every bit worth the wait. New Mexico scored $2.76 million in sales on the first day alone, and $39.5 million for the entire month.
Besides the first day of sales—a Friday—and the following weekend, dispensaries also welcomed record crowds on 4/20. And as April turns to May, most of New Mexico’s stores still have customers lining up outside their doors each morning.
“We’re pleasantly surprised with how smoothly everything is going,” said Heather Brewer, spokeswoman for the state’s cannabis control division. “There’s been no significant problems with our systems and no real shortages at dispensaries so far.”
Texans Join the Party
New Mexico’s dispensaries have plenty of local interest from the state’s 1.2 million residents over 21 years old, the legal age for buying marijuana. But dispensaries on the border are also enjoying a shot in the arm from buyers in neighboring Texas, where 20 million adults living in the Longhorn State are banned from buying a broad swath of common cannabis products within their borders. Texas allows only low-dose THC of less than 1% for registered medical patients suffering from epilepsy, and adult-use cannabis is completely banned.
The restrictive policies have produced a lucrative cannabis tourism market in New Mexico’s border cities of Las Cruces, Hobbs and Sunland Park, where 22 total dispensaries combined to sell $6.9 million in cannabis last month—about 17.5 percent of all product sold statewide.
“We were definitely expecting and preparing for a lot of Texans to make their way over here,” said Marissa Novel, chief marketing officer for dispensary chain Ultra Health. “But I would say this influx is even bigger than we expected.
Four of Ultra Health’s 37 dispensaries in New Mexico operate within a few miles of the border. Novel estimated that as much as half of the customers at those four stores were from the Longhorn State
“It’s been great for business,” she said. “If we can give more Texas users access to medicine while helping build our cannabis and hotel industries and making tax revenue for our state, it’s a win-win.”
A Day Late, but Not a Dollar Short
Some 1,900 miles northeast of where Carden, Brewer and Novel celebrated the end of prohibition in New Mexico, Sharon Ali opened her pair of dispensaries for adult-use sales just after 10 a.m. on April 21.
New Jersey’s launch didn’t happen in time for marijuana culture’s biggest holiday—state officials cited the potential for “unmanageable logistical challenges” as reason for waiting another day. But the launch would still be a massive success.
Ali, the regional general manager of The Botanist dispensary chain locations in Williamstown and Egg Harbor Township, oversaw two of just 12 legal marijuana stores given the green light to launch adult-use sales in New Jersey. Within hours of opening for business, she saw her inventory flying off the shelves like it was Black Friday at Walmart.
More than 1,000 people stood in line outside both Botanist dispensaries throughout the first day of sales, creating wait times of up to two hours. The New Jersey Cannabis Commission said 12,438 customers bought legal cannabis that day, spending a total of $1.9 million.
Despite spending weeks stacking up inventory in advance, Ali said some of the Botanist’s most popular products were slim on supply within a couple of days.
“We knew we’d have a lot of demand for Sour Banana Sherbet and Triangle Chem Cookies,” she said, referring to two of the chain’s most popular strains. “Thankfully we were well-prepared.”
A Surreal Sight
Outside the two Botanist dispensaries’ doors and several other cannabis stores across the Garden State, uniformed police officers stood on duty. But their job wasn’t to take cannabis users away in handcuffs, like they had for decades before April 21. Instead, they simply directed traffic, doing their part in making New Jersey’s adult-use sales launch a success.
The sight of law enforcement officials wasn’t lost on customers, though, some of whom had been fined or even received jail time for using the plant in the past.
Bill Cornett spent two years in prison, from 1982 to 1984, after Newark police discovered just over an ounce of flower in his car during a routine traffic stop. Though he’s since become a registered medical patient and legally purchased the plant for over a year, last week was the first time he saw cops outside the dispensary.
“It feels surreal,” Cornett admitted, “that we’ve come this far.”