Mandy Denson, co-owner of Compassionate Distributors Inc. in Ruidoso, serves customer Varen Daughrity, of Portales, Tuesday afternoon. Seen here are products sold at the state-licensed medical cannabis distribution center, including marijuana, hot cocoa, infused drinks, chocolates and rub-on medications. (Jill McLaughlin Photo)
RUIDOSO — Customers streamed in at a steady pace to Mandy Denson’s shop in Ruidoso Tuesday, much like any other retail establishment. But instead of buying trinkets or gifts, they were mostly selecting blends of marijuana by the bagful.
After a lively exchange across a bar top that included a quick rundown about how many ounces of “Cherry Kush,” “Diamond Diesel” or “Mystery Bud” was on hand, customers would show their state-issued identification cards and pay for their supplies.
The dense, pungent atmosphere sparked a Cheech and Chong flashback with every inhalation. Everybody seemed especially happy.
But not just for the goods. As Compassionate Distributors is the only medical cannabis distributor licensed by the New Mexico Department of Health in Southeast New Mexico, many customers drive for several hours to purchase a month’s supply at the shop.
The heavily regulated store is located inside an office building near an attorney’s office and across the way from the New Mexico Environment Department’s district office.
The retail store was a magnet of activity for the small center. The swinging glass door framed in wood clinks against a bell, cheerfully alerting the others inside who are busy discussing amazing blends or products.
“I could go somewhere else, but these are the ones who saved my life,” said customer Varen Daughrity of Portales.
Daughrity had a broken back and was in a wheelchair until recently. He was taking up to 300 milligrams of Oxycontin and other narcotics a day, he said. After a tragic event, when he lost a best friend to a methadone overdose, he said he wanted to change his life. That was when he decided to make the switch to medical cannabis.
“I said the hell with it,” Daughrity said. “I dropped all the pills because things were just a mess. I was dead when I came in here.”
Denson, an attorney, said she had no problem obtaining a city license when opening her shop in October 2011.
“I have a city permit,” Denson said. “Everything was so much more confidential. It wasn’t like it is now.”
Denson considers she and her husband to be in the same business as an herbalist, alternative healer or a consultant.
“They don’t have any zoning for this issue,” Denson said.
The City of Roswell is expected to hold a public hearing on banning state-licensed medical marijuana distribution centers, such as Compassionate Distributors, from city limits at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The city’s Planning and Zoning Committee, made up of Councilors Jason Perry, Jimmy Craig and Savino Sanchez, made no changes to the proposed amendment Tuesday and passed it through to City Council for Thursday’s hearing. Planning Director Michael Vickers said Tuesday he expects staff will present some changes to the amendment at the meeting.
“I’ve received several phone calls,” Craig said. “I assume there will be discussion about the medical marijuana.”
Denson said she plans to attend the hearing. Compassionate Distributors is already licensed to deliver to the Roswell area and regionally, to its customers.
“As it is right now, we’re able to keep up with our own patient base, but what we serve is substantially smaller than what people up north serve,” Denson said.
Most of her customers are older with post traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, cancers, neuropathy and HIV treatments, she said. “They tend to be the older crowd,” she said.
“I wish we could have something in Roswell. It is quite a drive. A lot of these people in Roswell are sick. We do what we can with the restrictions we are under.”
The NMDOH required Denson to file an addendum to its 5-pounds of paperwork that it has to submit yearly for its license renewal, in order to begin delivering to its customers outside of Ruidoso. The provisions approved by the NMDOH were written to ensure safety measures were in place and remain confidential, Denson said.
“There hasn’t been one incident,” she said.
Even if Denson were approved by the state to open a center in Roswell, she would need to submit a new application for approval. Part of the application is to prove the location is safe, not within 300 feet of a school, church or day care, and the facility is equipped with several security measures.
“I would still have to go to the Department of Health with a bundle of paperwork and see if they will approve me,” she said.