William and Collete Hunter outside their Los Alamos home where they hope to establish their business, Atomic City Cannabis Company. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
As Los Alamos County Council prepares to vote Tuesday evening on an ordinance amending Chapter 16 of the County Code to add local regulations for cannabis retail sales and amending regulations for “home occupations”, the Los Alamos Reporter has received many questions regarding the proposed ordinance, particularly about how the state Cannabis Regulation Act, the Clean Air Act work and what retail for cannabis will look like in Los Alamos County.
Since the cannabis retail issue began to be discussed in County Council and Planning & Zoning meetings, Collete and William Hunter have spoken openly and on the record about their desire to establish the Atomic City Cannabis Company, setting up shop in a small and separate portion of their home in Los Alamos for a “cannabis microbusiness”. The community has had a chance to hear from the Hunters extensively in open meetings as well in multiple letters to local media.
The Hunters have said they expect to grow no more than 30 plants at a time, and later if they wish to expand, they own property outside the county where they would be allowed to grow up to 200 plants under licensing regulations for what’s called an “Integrated Cannabis Microbusiness” (ICM).
The Los Alamos Reporter sat down with the Hunters to learn more about how the microbusiness would work. Collete said they would retain their ICM at their residence. The land would be used to cultivate the plants and the resulting flower product can be “couriered” or transported from the land to the ICM under the terms of the Cannabis Regulation Act (CRA).
Collete Hunter said under the CRA, a microbusiness is allowed to produce up to 200 mature cannabis plants at any one time at a single licensed premises. Manufacture of cannabis products is allowed at a single licensed premises. Sale and transportation is permitted only for cannabis products produced or manufactured by the ICM licensee. The licensee can only operate one retail establishment and the licensee can courier cannabis products to qualified patients, primary caregivers or reciprocal participants or directly to consumers.
“Manufacturing in the context of our microbusiness would, at first, encompass our production via cultivation of dried consumable flowers also known as ‘buds’, although dried consumable flowers are the end product of the cultivation process, as well as the products that could be made from the flower, such as rolled cannabis cigarettes (joints), or edibles to name a few,” Collete said. “Our flower products will be ‘hand-crafted’ and will not involve the use of machines to cultivate them. Our manufacturing process would happen when some of the dried consumable flowers would be further processed, via a progressively smaller screening process, to produce what is known as kief”.
Kief is the smallest parts of the flower where the actual THC is found. THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the high sensation. Their kief would then be compressed using a hand-held press into 2 gram “pucks”, and sold that way, Collete said.
“Our dried flower and kief puck product can be consumed in a number of ways – smoking, vaping, being made into edibles (using food-grade oil/butter infused with Cannabis/THC), tinctures, food-grade oil infusions, salves, lotions, etc., all per the preference of each consumer,” she said. “None of our manufacturing processes would include anything explosive, dangerous or noxious, and we plan to keep it that way!”
As they Hunters slowly grow their business, they would like to expand their product selection to include edibles, oil infusions, etc.
“To begin, we need to start somewhere, so we plan to start with two product types – consumable flowers and kief pucks. We will also offer for sale consumption accessories such as pipes, vaporizers and rolling papers,” she said.
The Reporter asked the Hunters if just anyone will be able to start growing and selling cannabis from their homes without permits and licenses and they explained that would be considered illegal activity and would be subject to criminal prosecution. To obtain a license for their ICM under the Cannabis Regulation Act, they are currently going through a rigorous state license application process that includes a criminal background check, proof of property ownership, a water and energy usage plan, and proof of sufficient water rights (a utility bill works for their case).
For the state license application they must include a premises diagram showing exactly what is happening where on the property, including cultivation, manufacture (which would happen in their vault space), security camera monitoring, sales space, etc. The state needs to know how much of the total square footage of their building is dedicated to residential space and how much to the business.
William Hunter said the state also wants to see the County’s denial of their application for a home-based business license. He said the County denied that application because the Hunters lacked a state license.
William Hunter said the state also requires a certification of punch-list items to be executed before opening the microbusiness including pulling permits for renovation of their current space for the retail and vault space as well as installing a security monitoring system.
“We plan to construct a retail and vault space where William currently has his home-based cosmetology business which we plan to close Mar. 31, 2022. We plan to open the cannabis business on July 1, 2022 if we can get the licenses in time,” Collete said.
She said they have already submitted an application for a provisional license to operate a home-based ICM to State Cannabis Control Division.
“A provisional license will allow us time to obtain any missing documentation such as the County Business License and proof of Zoning Approval. We can’t open or open or operate the microbusiness using the provisional license. We can’t get the state license until we get the home-based business license from Los Alamos County and the County won’t give us the license until we have a state license,” Collete Hunter said. “So, here we are!”
Asked to address how neighbors be assured that the business will be a safe one and what about those who don’t want to live next door to a “drug dealer’s house” or have similar concerns, William said contrary to the opinions of some, cannabis is not a “drug” like cocaine, methamphetamine, Ecstasy, etc. but is medicinal and recreational in the same way as alcohol.
“Cannabis is useful for treatment of a variety of ailments including chronic pain, and post- traumatic stress disorder. Many people consume it recreationally because it helps smooth social interactions. People like to decompress after a tough day and cannabis can help,” he said.
Regarding safety concerns, Hunter said their cannabis plants will be grown using a drip-irrigation system with no pesticides, fungicides or herbicides.
“Healthy cannabis plants are water-use efficient and pest/disease resistant. All of our cannabis products must be tested, and if testing shows contaminants, we cannot sell them. We have to destroy the product and report it to the state,” he said.
The Cannabis Regulation Act sets out the rules for businesses security and product safety.
“For instance, we must maintain a 24/7 motion-activated security camera business monitoring system that will notify us and the police should there be a security incident such as a break-in. A police report has to be sent to the Cannabis Control Division within 48 hours,” Hunter said.
Cannabis plants in the grow area can’t be visible to or reachable from public space, Hunter noted that almost every aspect of the business is monitored by the state. He said none of their neighbors have come forward with any concerns, but some have offered support. There are multiple home-based businesses in the neighborhood.
“As we all know, Los Alamos is a pretty safe town. We have no intentions or plans to change that with our business activity. After all, we live here too,” he said.
Asked why not just sell medical grade cannabis as a home based business as that would be allowed, Hunter explained that the integrated cannabis home-based microbusiness concept originated in the CRA. When the CRA passed, it transferred the control of the existing state medical cannabis program from the Department of Health to the Cannabis Control Division of the State Regulation and Licensing Department. Now all cannabis dispensaries must maintain 10-25 percent of their total product inventory for medical cannabis patients and medical cannabis patients will not have to pay tax on cannabis product sales. Hunter said the requirements for selling cannabis for recreational purposes to a consumer are presentation of proper picture identification, proof of age 21 or over, product payment and completion of documentation for chain of custody.
The Los Alamos Reporter asked the Hunters about a recent “satirical” column in another publication by Councilor David Izraelevitz that some have interpreted to suggest that cannabis retail might not be a financially viable business start-up.
“I’m honestly not sure from what position Councilor Izraelevitz was coming. This is a new industry and the State had hoped by crafting the Cannabis Regulation Act to spur small business creation with some of those businesses being home-based,” Collete Hunter responded. “Remember, all cannabis sales in New Mexico were illegal until medical cannabis was legalized here in 2007. Prior to that, sales happened anywhere – including from homes, with anyone who had the cash on the ‘Black Market’.”
The Hunters concluded by telling the Reporter that they don’t need capital to get their business started and that if they did, they would have access to it.
“We own our home free and clear, and can fit only about 30 plants total in our grow area, but that will be enough to get started. Our business model will be simple for us to implement once we obtain our state and local business licenses. We will have low operating expenses low production expenses, and low selling expenses,” Collete Hunter said. “There are more than 550 medical cannabis patients, and an unknown number of recreational cannabis consumers to whom we can sell, so the revenue side of the business operation should work out okay, too! We are almost perfectly positioned for this business to be successful from the start.”