Leading cannabis operator prevails in New Mexico, where business is booming and workplace drug policies are changing


Ultra Health has prevailed in a tedious legal case that delayed the opening of two dispensaries.

The vertically-integrated medical cannabis provider is forging a remarkable print on the state’s nascent industry, which appears to be blossoming into a fruitful market since legalization was approved in April.

A New Mexico appellate court validated a 2018 court ruling permitting the state’s largest medical cannabis operator to launch two new dispensaries.

After claiming victory in a district court case, Ultra Health proceeded to launch the retail outlets. Since this time, the well-respected company has launched 16 dispensaries and is currently operating 25 medical cannabis retail stores across the state.

Three years ago, Ultra Health’s request to open two dispensaries was rejected by the New Mexico Department of Health. The Department refused on the basis of stocking issues and the fact that one of the dispensaries was housed inside a senior living facility.

According to the District Court ruling, the regulators’ reasons for prohibiting the facilities — of which have since opened their doors in Española and Los Lunas — were baseless and unfounded.

A similar ruling was made in the appellate court. That particular ruling said that state regulators had no “discretionary” authority to prevent Ultra Health from opening the stores.

Workplace drug policies are changing in New Mexico

As New Mexico embraces the legal cannabis industry — an attempt to bolster the economy and decriminalize a drug that is becoming more widely accepted across the globe — the Santa Fe Police Department is changing its stance on workplace drug policies. 

Prior to recreational cannabis legalization, the department’s policy stipulated that anyone seeking to join the police force would face immediate disqualification if they had smoked or ingested the plant within three years of submitting a job application.

Now, the city police force does not consider previous cannabis consumption to be a disqualifying factor for employment.

“With the legalization of recreational cannabis, maintaining the three-year disqualifying factor would likely make an already challenging recruiting environment much more difficult,” reads an email written by Deputy Chief Ben Valdez. “This also would present the potential of losing out on well-qualified candidates.”

Aside from the city police department, statewide employers in various sectors have already (or are considering) amending their drug testing policies.

“Oftentimes, drug testing policies in the workplace most acutely impact working-class people and low-income people in blue collar jobs despite similar rates of cannabis use across all classes,” said state director for New Mexico’s Drug Policy Alliance, Emily Kaltenbach. “Absent evidence of drug use interfering with the person’s job performance, drug testing wastes money, invades privacy and cuts off paths to employment.”

Changes to New Mexico’s workplace drug policies reflect growing acceptance of the plant. Based on the state’s cannabis law, nothing restricts “an employer’s ability to prohibit or take an adverse employment action against an employee for impairment by or possession or use of intoxicating substances at work during work hours.” However, rules vary by position.

New Mexico’s cannabis market is creating business opportunities

The people of New Mexico have been legally allowed to possess and consume cannabis since late June. Recreational cannabis sales are expected to begin no later than April 2022. Thanks to the newly launched market, business opportunities abound for low-budget entrepreneurs.

According to the law that was signed into effect by Governor Lujan Grisham, New Mexicans can possess two ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of concentrates and cultivate up to six mature plants at home for personal consumption.

Furthermore, the law stipulates that cannabis business licenses must be issued by January 1, 2022. Lawmakers designed the legal framework to be microbusiness friendly, thus allowing entrepreneurs to get involved in the nascent market without large capital reserves.

Persons who fall under the “microbusiness” category include those who manufacture cannabis products at a single licensed premises; operate just one retail establishment; produce cannabis at an independent licensed facility with fewer than 200 mature plants on-site at any given time; courier cannabis products to qualifying patients, caregivers or directly to consumers.