Cannabis and Water Rights in New Mexico

Cannabis and Water Rights in New Mexico

Earlier this year, New Mexico announced the legalization of recreational marijuana. They were among the many states in the U.S. to announce the legalization of cannabis this year. Other states also include Connecticut and Virginia. This is great news for weed consumers and those looking to jump into the business. Unfortunately, little consideration to the environment of New Mexico may result in a different course of action. Specifically for those who wish to jump into the cannabis cultivation industry. It appears there are new questions and regulations revolving around cannabis and water rights in New Mexico. Why are these being put in place, and who is it affecting the most? 

Cannabis and Water Rights in New Mexico

New Mexico is a state that has been suffering through a 20-year drought. Those who are experienced in cannabis cultivation know that it requires a substantial amount of water to grow cannabis. It is likely that lawmakers were too much in a hurry to pass the bill that they did not take into consideration the environmental factors of New Mexico. Now, it is affecting those who wish to set up their own cannabis cultivation business. Specifically, local individuals rather than big corporations. 

In order to properly set up a cannabis business, the owners must report a water source. Many people believe that because they had a domestic well on their property, or a stream or acequia nearby that it would be enough. Unfortunately, it is not. Now, those with cannabis business licenses must also present water rights. It’s important to note that obtaining water rights is not a quick, easy, nor affordable endeavor. 

Why Are These Water Rights Regulations In Place?

As mentioned previously, New Mexico is suffering from a tremendous drought. According to scientists, it is one of the worst droughts seen in 1,200 years. Water is scarce in New Mexico, and it doesn’t seem like it may get any better. In fact, climate models predict that this state will only get drier. This is not great news for the many people who applied to obtain cannabis business licenses earlier this year. 

Additionally, those who believed they were exempt from having to obtain water rights in New Mexico are not. Unfortunate to many local cannabis farmers, a domestic well may not be enough. Moreover, obtaining water from the nearby stream or acequia will also not be allowed. This is due to those water reservations belonging to the entire community and not just one individual. 

There was also a lack of research when constructing and introducing the cannabis bill. The Office of the State Engineer was only minimally consulted. Had their involvement been much more prominent, perhaps there would have been fewer issues and confusion regarding the water rights in New Mexico for cannabis. 

Who Is Being Affected?

The main people being affected by this lack of planning are local people and farmers who wish to join the cannabis industry. Many people applied for cannabis business licenses. Now, many of them will be forced to obtain water rights in order to continue their pursuit of building a business. Regardless of the size of their business, whether they wish to grow 200 or 10,000 cannabis plants, they will be required to obtain water rights. Water rights are not the most affordable component in creating a cannabis business, especially in New Mexico. Some cost tens of thousands of dollars per acre foot. 

This then raises the question of who exactly will be entering the cannabis business. With large expenses that a local individual can not easily afford, it seems that they will be pushed out. Instead, it’s likely that large corporations will be the ones who can successfully acquire cannabis licenses and water rights in New Mexico. This potentially destroys the possibility of the cannabis business in New Mexico being an equitable marketplace that benefits the local communities. 

Advice for People Wanting To Obtain Water Rights in New Mexico

John Romero is the director of the Water Resource Allocation Program of the State Engineer’s Office. Here is some advice he has for people preparing to grow cannabis in the state: 

  • Producers who plan to purchase or rent a facility connected to a commercial or municipal water system can simply connect to the system as a commercial customer.
  • If you’ve discovered a domestic well on your property, you must have agricultural or commercial well rights. 
  • If someone offers to sell you water rights from an acequia system, check to see if the acequia commission has bylaws that prohibit or limit such transfers. 
  • Be patient. According to Romero, his agency has received over 500 water-related permit applications. An average wait time is 8 – 10 months.
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