Legacy cannabis producers and recently-licensed operators set up shop in Santa Fe
The countdown to recreational cannabis in New Mexico is almost done and with over a dozen dispensaries in Santa Fe, residents (and tourists) have lots of options.
Most dispensaries in town are legacy producers licensed under the medical cannabis program and grandfathered in last year after legalization passed. That includes Verdes Foundation and Everest Cannabis Co., both of which are led by women who view the industry as increasingly diverse, although getting to that point hasn’t been without challenges, they say. The companies made their entrance into Santa Fe within the last month.
The state Cannabis Control Division has licensed just two new retail stores in Santa Fe. Endo is a seed-to-sale company owned by a local family, and Smoke City Dos is a smoke shop on Airport Road.
Some business owners point to restrictive zoning and permitting delays at the city level as one potential reason for the low number of new licensees.
“It is harder to get into Santa Fe,” says Ian Aarons, managing director of Endo. “If you’re going to open up here, you’ve gotta be all in on Santa Fe…I’m not saying it’s any one person’s blame. We’re all kind of scrambling here.”
Aarons got a personal production license five years ago to grow medical cannabis for a family friend who was diagnosed with cancer, and he’s been thinking about getting into the industry ever since.
The company got its retail and production license a week and a half ago and renovations at a 10,000-square-foot building on Siler Road are ongoing. The plan is to open by early May, Aarons says, and sell products from other local producers until Endo is able to get its own grow up and running.
Aarons envisions a carefully-curated storefront that’s visually pleasing and inviting for customers.
“I think a big thing that a lot of people miss is really making that experience in-store unique,” Aarons says. “I think cannabis is something that can be fancier, it can be extravagant and a real experience.”
That seems to be a growing philosophy in the industry.
Verdes Foundation, one of the state’s largest operators, expanded into Santa Fe last month with a retail store on Shelby Street, a couple blocks from the Plaza.
A manicured courtyard off the one-way street leads into a dispensary that feels more like a high-end boutique. Wood floors, warm light and large cases displaying pre-rolls, cannabis-infused beverages and other products all contribute to the atmosphere.
The store was designed with “cannabis-curious people” in mind, CEO Rachael Speegle tells SFR. The company wanted to create a welcoming space for people to work through any questions they might have, and to send the message that using cannabis shouldn’t be stigmatized.
The company plans to open another location on Zafarano Drive later this year, geared more toward residents than tourists.
Verdes distinguishes itself from competitors in part through its emphasis on education.
Registered nurses on staff train every budtender, which “empowers them to have really challenging conversations with people and get the honest relationship going that’s necessary in order for someone to open up about their health,” says Speegle, who’s also a registered nurse.
Speegle is one of few female chief executive officers in New Mexico’s cannabis industry and, she says, it hasn’t been easy. She stepped into the position in December 2018 and was the chief operating officer for two years prior.
“It’s been the hardest environment to be a woman in,” Speegle says. “I was a professional dancer in New York, I was a rock climber, a mountaineer, a nurse, a paramedic. This is the worst.”
Speegle adds that while Verdes is a “protected environment,” she’s been the target of sexist comments in professional settings and has experienced sexual harassment.
She helped start a local chapter of Women Grow, a national organization focused on female leadership in the industry, in Albuquerque in 2014, but it’s not active anymore. Speegle says she thinks there’s a chance it could be revived, but she’s not sure there’s as much need for it now.
Trishelle Kirk, CEO of Everest Cannabis Co., shares Speegle’s sense that the industry has made significant strides toward gender equality in recent years. Everest had its grand opening in Santa Fe last Friday.
“I spent a lot of my career in male-dominated industries so it wasn’t surprising, but what was really incredible was that I feel like a lot of the women in the industry take the idea that they’re blazing a trail for more women very seriously,” says Kirk, who adds that 40% of Everest’s managers are women. “I’ve been in the industry for going on three years and I’ve seen a shift toward a lot more women and people of color coming into leadership roles.”
Everest has wanted to expand into Santa Fe since it started selling medical cannabis in 2016, Kirk says. The company entered a lease for a building on Cerrillos Road in 2020 but the pandemic and related complications delayed opening.
“Between the local culture and the opportunity to interact with people visiting Santa Fe from other states, we just feel like it’s an incredible community to be a part of,” Kirk says.
The company launched an updated brand concept last year, including a name change from Everest Apothecary, and colors and imagery meant to be more representative of New Mexico. The Santa Fe store features two murals from Albuquerque artist Vaughn Valois.
“There’s so much creativity in New Mexico and having a brand that allows us to showcase that creativity is really exciting for us,” Kirk says.