While marijuana is still illegal in New Mexico, the state is currently considering legalizing the use of medical and recreational marijuana. In a recent report by the New Mexico Senate Committee on Energy and Environment, water usage in the state was cited as a potential problem and obstacle to the successful commercialization of the industry.
New Mexico is the first state to allow medical marijuana, and the state’s water supply is critical to the demand of the industry. On January 23rd of this year, Governor Martinez signed a bill that passed with bipartisan support in the New Mexico legislature. The law allows medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries to irrigate their crops by using water from tributaries of the Rio Grande.
New Mexico’s laws permitting medical marijuana have been the subject of intense debate since the state’s voters passed the Compassionate Use Act in 2006. As a result, regulations governing the cultivation and use of medical marijuana are strict, and critics of the system have argued that the state’s limited water resources may not be sufficient to support the anticipated increase in demand for water as a result of the state’s new law.
Cid and Medina Isbell find opportunity where others see desolation.
They foresee a greenhouse full of cannabis plants where scrub, sunflowers, and cactuses currently thrive on their 30-acre property just north of Madrid.
They’re one of many optimistic entrepreneurs who view New Mexico’s impending legal cannabis manufacturing and sales market — which is scheduled to open on April 1 — as a chance to break into a new industry with a potentially lucrative payout. The Isbells have already collected $200,000 toward their $800,000 original budget, and they’ve engaged a lawyer to assist them with legal problems.
They own the property and are ready to put up the security fences and cameras needed by the state to get a cannabis production license. However, they still face a significant obstacle.
Before applying for a license, the Isbells, like other potential cannabis growers in New Mexico, must demonstrate that they have access to water and a sufficient quantity.
This may be a concern, particularly for rural farmers in a state with complex rules dividing up a limited amount of water rights and a 20-year megadrought that threatens to contribute to a severe water deficit. Cannabis farmers operating in city facilities may use the municipal water supply as commercial customers, but those growing outside city boundaries must buy or lease commercial or agricultural water rights from someone who owns them, which is a complex and time-consuming procedure.
The criterion is not met by a residential well on private property.
The Isbells assumed that a home well would provide for their water requirements as they prepared to establish a business that grows, manufactures, and distributes cannabis. They were taken aback when they realized it wasn’t enough.
Medina Isbell, 47, a professional photographer who has worked in the retail and food sectors, said, “It’s certainly depressing.”
Her spouse said, “Water becomes a major element in our business.”
For their first greenhouse, the pair want to construct a 10,000-gallon water tank. They anticipate that as they grow, they will need 30,000 gallons of water each year.
They stated that if they can’t get water from a nearby source, they’ll bring it in. They’ve been in contact with local water transportation firms. One company has advertised a 6-cent-per-gallon bargain that includes delivery. This will bring their monthly water budget, which was previously set at $200, up to $1,000.
Cid Isbell, a professional information technology worker in his mid-50s, is ready to leap into a new sector, employ up to 20 people and create a nest egg for his future retirement.
“It’ll be difficult,” he added, “especially with all the regulations we have to follow to be licensed.” “But we’re not giving up.”
People frequently don’t realize how complicated water rights may be in New Mexico, according to John Romero, head of the State Engineer’s Office’s Water Resource Allocation Program. His office is working on an information sheet to assist individuals who want to apply for cannabis production licenses.
Meanwhile, his team is receiving 25 to 50 inquiries each day regarding cannabis water needs.
Romero said, “We’re doing the best we can.”
He warns that obtaining water rights for cannabis growers will take time. First, by September 1, the state must have finalized regulations for producers. The producers must then submit their paperwork for approval to the State Engineer’s Office.
He claimed the agency now has a backlog of 500 water permit applications, including requests for water rights transfers, and that each one would take eight to ten months to be approved. And when cannabis growers begin to submit applications, the number is sure to rise.
Paula Garcia, executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association, is particularly concerned about the emergence of a new business that would further strain the state’s limited water supply. She highlighted a recent research by the University of California, Berkeley’s Cannabis Research Center, which projected that national water consumption by legal cannabis markets would rise by 86 percent by 2025.
According to Garcia, New Mexico simply does not have enough water to support the new business.
“Water distribution is already causing problems in communities,” she added. “Cannabis usage adds a fresh demand on an already scarce supply of water.”
Studies of places where cannabis growers have been operating lawfully for a while don’t provide a clear picture of how much water the sector in New Mexico could need. The size of the plants, whether producers are growing cannabis inside or outdoors, and the watering method they employ (drip irrigation vs. garden hose) all have a role.
According to a recent study published in the journal BioScience, a single cannabis plant uses approximately 22 liters of water each day, or about 6 gallons. According to the study, cannabis plants need less water than alfalfa, maize, potatoes, and certain fruit trees, but more than grapes and melons.
For a growing season, Tony Martinez, CEO of Lava Leaf Organics in Aztec, which supplies medical cannabis to Urban Wellness shops, said his company needs 90 gallons of water per plant.
That’s a total of roughly 36,000 gallons for his 400 plants, which comes from a local water users organization.
Lava Leaf intends to grow into the recreational cannabis market, bringing its total plant count to 8,000. Even then, Martinez claims, it would only use around 12% of its allocated water.
According to a study on environmental implications released by the National Cannabis Industry Association in October 2020, many water-use studies concentrate on the effects of outdoor illegal marketplaces, especially in California.
The initial alarms of cannabis as a threat to water availability are not broadly applicable beyond the original context of illicit cannabis farming in Northern California, according to the report. “Considering that a large portion of cannabis farming nationwide is indoors and far from watercourses vulnerable to flow reductions, the initial alarms of cannabis as a threat to water availability are not broadly applicable beyond the original context of illicit cannabis farming in Northern California,” the report says.
Indoor growth, however, may place a strain on municipal water systems, according to the study.
Linda Trujillo, the superintendent of the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department, which regulates the cannabis sector, expressed her optimism that weather conditions would not be a deterrent to potential producers.
For the first two years of the legal cannabis industry’s existence, the state will monitor water use.
Nonetheless, Toner Mitchell, the New Mexico water and habitat program manager for Trout Unlimited, expressed his worry. During a recent cannabis conference in Albuquerque, he talked briefly on the cannabis industry’s possible negative impacts on animals.
“I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult to cut down production” if the state decides that too much water is being used to produce cannabis, Mitchell said.
New Mexico’s State Legislature will soon hear a bill that would legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp, a non-marijuana strain of cannabis with no psychoactive properties. The bill’s proponents believe that it can help the state’s agricultural economy, while also having significant benefits for the local environment, and that New Mexico can be a world leader in the cannabis industry if it decides to legalize industrial hemp.. Read more about new mexico medical card replacement and let us know what you think.
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