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Loss Leader: Council’s position on the expansion of the troubled convention center

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When city council votes tonight whether to approve using $14.4 million from the half-cent sales tax fund to expand the convention center they will do so with the expectation it will enhance growth and economic development in the community, but council, along with other city and county officials and agencies can’t provide information on the current status of economic impact of the convention center.

To date, only one study has been provided to the PULP that shows the economic impact of the convention center and it’s a projection for post-expansion. So, how much more economic impact can Puebloans expect from the convention center expansion? That information doesn’t exist.

What the report does provide is the expected sales tax after the expansion, $199,000, and the expected economic development from the expansion, $33,000. There would be $585,000 generated in county, state and lodging taxes.

Pueblo could expect as many as 28,000 guests that would stay overnight and spend an average of $138.97 and 98,000 guests that would stay the day and spend around $28.79.

Figuring out if that’s a good deal for Pueblo’s economy in the long run is difficult because there aren’t any current numbers to compare to the projections.

“I see it as a means of creating a new venue for the downtown area to attract people to support small businesses and hopefully stimulate more private investment in the riverwalk and downtown.” – Council President, Steve Nawrocki

In February, PULP reported that the convention center loses, on average, around $400,000 each year, according to numbers ran by PURA board member Daniel Ramos. The Hunden Report expects the convention center would run on a $585,000 deficit in its first year of operation. By year four the center is expected to turn a profit.

Many council members saw the lack of impact information on impact as unfortunate, but not a reason to abandon the plan.

Council President Steve Nawrocki told the PULP that he views the expansion as an amenity for Pueblo that will draw in visitors — such as the ice arena or soccer fields.

“I see it as a means of creating a new venue for the downtown area to attract people to support small businesses and hopefully stimulate more private investment in the riverwalk and downtown,” Nawrocki said.

Despite the unknown, Schilling also said he thinks the loan makes “perfect business sense” because it will draw in more people and add $2.1 million to the half-cent fund as the money is repaid.

“If 50 people come here and buy hamburgers, and we double that (the number of travelers), how many hamburgers are we going to sell?” Schilling said, speaking hypothetically.

Councilman Dennis Flores agreed that the expansion and loan is a step in the right direction for Pueblo.

“I would hate to see what downtown would look like without the convention center.” Councilman Ed Brown

“Sometimes information like this is difficult to pinpoint,” Flores said. “But there’s no question that the center has impacted the retail community and hotels.”

Councilman Ed Brown pointed to a statistic widely cited in the expansion discussion: For every dollar lost operating the convention center, $7 more is created in the community. PULP was unable to find any support of that.

At this point Brown seems to be on the fence with his vote.

“I would hate to see what downtown would look like without the convention center,” Brown said. “But I might just vote against it (using half-cent money) to show that the stance against it wasn’t for nothing, but it’s a positive thing for Pueblo.”

Three former council members, Chris Kaufman, Ami Nawrocki and Sandy Daff, voted against using half-cent money for the expansion last year. They are no longer on city council. There’s also been an effort from local citizens to prevent the loan. Ted Freeman, local activist and regular attendee at city council meetings, is organizing a petition to put the question on the ballot. He’ll need 3,000 signatures.

Councilwoman Eva Montoya told the PULP she does not support the expansion.

“I said I would support the RTA, but how can I vote for it if I don’t know where the money was before?” Montoya said. “I’m not going to rubber stamp anything if they can’t explain to the citizens.”

Councilmen Chris Nicoll and John Cordova were unavailable for comment.

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2 Comments
  • John A. Salas

    How typical of PEDCo, backed by less-than-courageous public officials and an equally feckless local newspaper, to come up with this wish-and-a-prayer to cover it’s inability to recruit livable-wage jobs to Pueblo. Had it been handed to the voters, the expansion proposal would have gone down, as similar proposals before it, like a lead balloon. But too few in the city have the backbone to question anything that PEDCo does, or hasn’t done in its 30-year history. Hat’s off to Kara Mason and The Pulp for doing what The Chieftain won’t.

    • Greg Severance

      Here you go John and Kara:
      The underlying truth about emailgate was about 4 public officials and real community leaders like John Salas who didn’t fear being painfully honest and who cared deeply about Pueblo trying to help Her. We stood to gain nothing except to do our jobs and bring Pueblo out of poverty. The plan to do so in “open public meetings” involved including all stakeholders and pardon us, the “general public” and independent media outlets like yourselves. It was never sold as being the perfect plan. Only one that considered moving into the 21 Century and sought to change the pay for jobs only 30-year PEDCO/PC formula that by all economic metric barometers is, has and will continue to fail. Below is the infamous Whitepaper. Enjoy and report accordingly as you desire.
      Greg Severance
      Conceptual White paper

      Next Step – Solutions to
      openly discuss with all stakeholders

      August 5, 2014

      City Council members have listened and learned a great deal from the public at a
      series of town hall meetings reflecting the opinions, preferences,
      interpretations, and hopes regarding the historic economic development model
      and efforts to create, retain and expand wealth creating primary jobs for the
      Pueblo while addressing the state of our City’s failing infrastructure over the
      past few months.

      We have also heard from the Pueblo Chieftain and read many editorials from citizens and stakeholders sharing their views on the state of our economic development woes and city infrastructure needs. We also conducted a City wide survey to hear from the citizens of Pueblo we represent asking them what they believe are the top City of Pueblo priorities for their tax dollars. Not surprisingly, road maintenance and economic development rose to the top of the list as their
      highest priorities.

      Oklahoma Trip – First, I must remind everyone, City Manager, Sam Azad publically invited all council persons at aprevious council meeting who desired to attend the meetings with the economicdevelopment teams in Oklahoma City. Those Council members and staff includingJack Rink who traveled to Oklahoma City, learned a lot in several meetings andtours about the quality of life projects OKC leaders working together, builtboth for their citizens to enjoy and to make their city a more attractive place full of fun facilities and other attractive amenities to help lure economic development and high paying jobs for their citizens. What was repeated over and over again by OKC officials is that they recognized that nobody could fix their community except themselves, and only by uniting and working together with all stakeholders including the business community and local media.

      Oklahoma City is larger than Pueblo, so direct comparisons should not be made.
      However, we must have grand visions, be open to outside of the box
      concepts, and the willingness of all parties to work together, united, to make
      the transition from a community that is clearly severely lagging behind in
      every empirical and statistical economic matrix, to a community that has the
      potential to lead the way out of our current and on-going economic slump.

      Below are the guiding principles and suppositions
      we have learned from listening to everyone opinions, preferences,
      interpretations, and hopes over the past few months along with a draft proposal
      of conceptual win-win solutions with the ultimate intent for open discussion
      working in cooperation, consultation and partnership with PEDCO, the PURA, the
      Pueblo Chamber, Pueblo County, other stakeholders and most important, the
      citizens of Pueblo:

      1. What we learned from the four town hall meetings and recent city survey is that
      while the citizens of Pueblo acknowledge the need to address or beautify the city’s
      major highway corridors and other city major arterials, they do not wish to
      utilize the ½ cent sales tax funding for anything other than primary, wealth
      creating jobs executed and performed by PEDCO in cooperation with the City of
      Pueblo.

      A case study on offering incentives to lure major employers from our OKC trip: In 1990, United Airlines considered OKC as a city to move their corporate operations to Oklahoma City. OKC leaders and elected officials, working together, created a ballot initiative to take to the voters. A one-year, one-cent sales tax
      directed toward cash incentives for United Airlines. The citizens passed this
      ballot initiative. Ultimately, United Airlines chose not to relocate to Oklahoma City, not because the incentive package was not lucrative enough, but because their employees simply would not move there. OKC simply did not have the quality of life facilities in place to attract this major employer to their City. Has Pueblo faced this same issue time and time again? Sadly, the answer is yes.

      2. Recognizing that many in our poverty stricken city are living paycheck to paycheck and are struggling, we just can’t support yet another tax increase to address the rapidly deteriorating roads and other well publicized infrastructure needs. Maintenance of streets once again rated the highest public priority in our recent public survey. It is strongly believed, and assumed PEDCO and the citizens of Pueblo would certainly acquiesce, that with the Black Hills Energy increasing rates, another tax increase would only cause a greater job recruitment impediment. This is and has been the City Council’s primary objective and dialog at the public forums. How much is enough for economic development? Can we work TOGETHER to find a solution to do both without raising the high tax rates already imposed on our citizens?

      3. Let’sstart talking with PEDCO, the Pueblo Chamber, and the PURA, the citizens of Pueblo, Pueblo County, the Pueblo Chieftain and City Council to consider a
      ballot initiative in 2015 to allow RTA loaned funding with interest payments to
      the City of Pueblo from the half-cent fund if the citizens of Pueblo support
      this use of funds at the polls. Our common goal is to keep the state
      increment payments (new outside wealth) fought for and obtained by the great
      efforts and work by the Pueblo Chamber and PURA committee, to continue this
      state funding flowing into Pueblo for decades to come. This one issue appears
      to be the major bone of contention that has received all the attention recently
      in the Pueblo Chieftain.

      Here is the ethical dilemma City Council is faced with regardless City Council’s legal authority or not to amend the city ordinance to allow this loan from our ½ cent sales tax reserve dedicated solely to primary job creation by the voters:

      City Ordinance No. 8509 established back in 1984 (30 years ago) reads as follows – “Primary Job” means a full-time position in private sector employment by manufacturing, business, commercial or service industries producing, assembling or distributing productsor providing services PRIMARILY or ultimately for SALE , consumption or use OUTSIDE of the City and County of Pueblo, Colorado”. When the ½ cent sales tax was passed by the voters, the campaign for its passage sold this very primary job creation language as has been the case for the past 30 years. There was no mention whatsoever of tourist jobs being classified as primary jobs and certainly no discussion with the citizens of Pueblo about using these funds to expand the convention center or any of the other five public project components committed to the state in RTA state grant. To arbitrarily make this ordnance change just because City Council may legally do so to allow this loan simply is not what the will of the citizens of Pueblo voted for. They voted for the hope of livable wage primary jobs created by our partners, PEDCO in partnership with the City of Pueblo. With this said and what we learned in OKC about the need
      for quality life facilities to attract major employers, we will stand by our
      RTA committee and PEDCO and allow the voters to decide if this is an
      appropriate use of our economic development reserve and the sales tax fund extended by the voters. After all, this is not our money. It is the citizens of Pueblo’s money and we strongly believe they are owed the opportunity to decide this use of funds at the polls.

      4. This community needs to showcase the City of Pueblo’s two industrial parks and other primary job major corridors, Interstate-25, and state highway corridors
      providing aesthetics, streetscape, bicycle and pedestrian trails, open space,
      gateways, recreation within industrial park, signage, etc. Let’s work together
      to modify the language so that we can change the ballot language to be eligible
      to get more bang for our buck by coupling half-cent funds with Federal
      transportation funding that is available but requires some local match monies.
      GOCO, DOLA and other grant funding sources are also available in some limited
      cases for recreational amenities and infrastructure needs (i.e. Lime Road,
      airport operations, and RTA project) for both industrial parks and other
      primary job locations within the city. These additional outside wealth/ funding sources to accomplish this objective have been expressed as a need to aid and support primary job creation efforts by both PEDCO and the City of Pueblo. In OKC a TIGER grant was obtained for $15 million dollars to build a downtown trolley system. Thus the need for our transportation staff and experts at attaining grant funding to be a part of the discussions in OKC.

      Like Pueblo, Oklahoma City values outdoor recreation and beautification projects. In addition to a 30 acre downtown park, OKC is also developing an eight-mile trail along their major corridor in part funded by ODOT grant monies, Interstate 44 from Lake Hefner to the Oklahoma River. Again, an example of how transportation can help drive economic development.

      5. We need to work with PEDCO and other interested parties to discuss the half-cent sales tax language amendments to prepare and finalize a five or six year
      half-cent tax extension ballot initiative in November 2015. The overriding question faced by the public, Council, and PEDCO is this: how much is
      enough for primary job creation? This is the major hurdle we must get over to
      BOTH continue primary job creation as our highest priority and begin addressing
      our crumbling roads and other infrastructure without a tax increase to our citizens which as mentioned will only cause a greater impediment to job creation in Pueblo.

      Consideration of a percentage of the NEW half-cent fund if passed by the voters in the 2015 ballot to be dedicated to specific citywide road paving and infrastructure
      projects our citizens clearly are demanding in our city survey. The NEW funding
      would not raid existing funding (1/2 cent Reserve) passed by the voters and
      city ordinance strictly dedicated to primary job creation.

      Consideration of a safety net or floor provision, which ensures that certain levels of funding are maintained for primary job creation

      Consideration of dedicating the interest earned on half-cent sales tax be utilized for public safety and a city fleet replacement program

      Consideration of expanding the language to include specific aesthetic improvements at Pueblo’s gateway areas and facilities modeled after the MAPS OKC successful federal and state transportation grant model

      6. Small businesses. Language currently exists and PEDCO does offer incentive packages to small businesses that create primary jobs (for those that sell their goods primarily outside of the city). City Council, in partnership with PEDCO, Pueblo County, the Chamber and other stakeholders proposes to be much more proactive in reaching out and engaging with our highly valuable small business community. Dedicated, open public City Council televised special work sessions, public forums, PEDCO sponsored events, Pueblo Chieftain advertising and other avenues should be used to allow PEDCO a profusion of additional platforms to thoroughly educate small businesses on the existing opportunities and incentives offered (loans, grants) to expand their businesses and add additional primary jobs. We strongly believe and are certain PEDCO agrees that expanding primary jobs already established from small businesses on their own dollars in Pueblo must be a top priority. We have no doubt PEDCO feels the same way here and have made efforts to do just that.

      Strong advice voiced by many we met with in OKC, including the OKC Mayor, City manager, their Economic Development Office, and their Chamber of Commerce, was that Oklahoma City officials are all “pulling the same rope”. In particular, the city relies on their Chamber of Commerce to drive community input on projects and to work closely with business and community leaders to accomplish the work that is driving Oklahoma City forward. Simply stated they strongly advised us that we would only be successful if we were all untied and working together on agreed
      upon economic development strategies and missions. If this does not occur, we
      will fail. This is our ultimate goal. To come together and work together for
      the citizens of Pueblo to combat poverty.

      7. Another talking point learned in OKC is the establishment of minimum average payroll for eligibility for half-cent sales tax incentives.

      We learned in Oklahoma City that in order for businesses to qualify for economic incentives, those jobs must pay 130% of median family income, which amounted to $43,000 annually. Based on Pueblo’s median household income of $34,362 (information derived from the American Community Survey in 2012), that would equate to $41,234 or $19.82 per hour. Based on the qualifications of the available workforce and educational levels attained in Pueblo, it is wildly optimistic that employers would be willing to pay at that same level, but a conversation about minimum average payroll would be helpful. Again, just an open discussion.

      8. Another talking point: Streamlining developers and business development permitting process. Let’s have open discussions with the business community on how to make the process more business friendly.

      What was striking about the OKC officials is how in tune every city organization is in implementing all MAPS project so that there is an immediate impact, whether it was their Urban Renewal Authority acquiring land, installing sidewalks, demolishing buildings, or beginning construction – something was always
      happening, their dreams were always moving forward. How can Pueblo capture that “can do” spirit? By working together!

      Beginning with MAPS1:

      Construction of the Bricktown Ballpark – before a major league team had even expressed an interest! Runyon Field? Rawlings Field at our CSU-P University?

      Improvements to their State Fairgrounds, including a new livestock show facility, new horse barns, and renovations and improvements of their arena and exhibition buildings.

      Interior renovation of the historic Civic Center Music Hall – much like our own Memorial Hall!

      Bricktown Canal –much like our Riveralk, created by demolishing a street in 1999 and is now a thriving, bustling outdoor area flanked by busy shops, restaurants, corporate headquarters, Bass Pro Shops (who were provided an incentive to bring their retail store to the Canal), a movie theater, a bowling alley, and the list goes
      on and on. And of most interest, the Sonic corporate headquarters at their own
      expense built and located their corporate offices on the riverwalk.

      Construction of the 20,000-seat Ford Theater, designed for major sporting events, concerts, shows, and exhibitions.

      Adding a trolley line and trolley shelters to serve their downtown and Bricktown areas funding in part from USDOT TIGER grants ($15M).

      Construction of the ultra-modern Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library.

      And continuing with MAPS for Schools: 57 school projects completed – interior upgrades, gymnasium additions, or new schools built

      13 schools nowunder construction

      10,000 computers purchased for computer labs

      And now implementing MAPS 3, which includes:

      Creation of the 40-acre park

      Creation of an 8-mile trail

      Creation of a Whitewater Park.

      Installation of $9million in sidewalks throughout the City

      Construction of a new convention center. Pay as you go. No bonding.

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More than just pie, the Pecan industry sets sights on snacks

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The humble pecan is being rebranded as more than just pie.

Pecan growers and suppliers are hoping to sell U.S. consumers on the virtues of North America’s only native nut as a hedge against a potential trade war with China, the pecan’s largest export market.

The pecan industry is also trying to crack the fast-growing snack-food industry.

The retail value for packaged nuts, seeds and trail mix in the U.S. alone was $5.7 billion in 2012, and is forecast to rise to $7.5 billion by 2022, according to market researcher Euromonitor.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based American Pecan Council, formed in the wake of a new federal marketing order that allows the industry to band together and assess fees for research and promotion, is a half-century in the making, said Jim Anthony, 80, the owner of a 14,000-acre pecan farm near Granbury, Texas.

Anthony said that regional rivalries and turf wars across the 15-state pecan belt — stretching from the Carolinas to California — made such a union impossible until recently, when demand for pecans exploded in Asian markets.

Until 2007, most U.S. pecans were consumed domestically, according to Daniel Zedan, president of Nature’s Finest Foods, a marketing group. By 2009, China was buying about a third of the U.S. crop.

The pecan is the only tree nut indigenous to North America, growers say. Sixteenth-century Spanish explore Cabeza de Vaca wrote about tasting the nut during his encounters with Native American tribes in South Texas. The name is French explorers’ phonetic spelling of the native word “pakan,” meaning hard-shelled nut.

Facing growing competition from pecan producers in South Africa, Mexico and Australia, U.S. producers are also riding the wave of the Trump Administration’s policies to promote American-made goods.

Most American kids grow up with peanut butter but peanuts probably originated in South America. Almonds are native to Asia and pistachios to the Middle East. The pecan council is funding academic research to show that their nuts are just as nutritious.

The council on Wednesday will debut a new logo: “American Pecans: The Original Supernut.”

Rodney Myers, who manages operations at Anthony’s pecan farm, credits the pecan’s growing cachet in China and elsewhere in Asia with its association to rustic Americana — “the oilfield, cowboys, the Wild West — they associate all these things with the North American nut,” he said.

China earlier this month released a list of American products that could face tariffs in retaliation for proposed U.S. tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. Fresh and dried nuts — including the pecan — could be slapped with a 15-percent tariff, according to the list. To counter that risk, the pecan council is using some of the $8 million in production-based assessments it’s collected since the marketing order was passed to promote the versatility of the tree nut beyond pecan pie at Thanksgiving.

While Chinese demand pushed up prices it also drove away American consumers. By January 2013, prices had dropped 50 percent from their peak in 2011, according to Zedan.

U.S. growers and processers were finally able in 2016 to pass a marketing order to better control pecan production and prices.

Authorized by the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, federal marketing orders help producers and handlers standardize packaging, impose quality control and fund research, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees 28 other fruit, vegetable and specialty marketing orders, in addition to the pecan order.

Critics charge that the orders interfere with the price signals of a free, unfettered private market.

“What you’ve created instead is a government-sanctioned cartel,” said Daren Bakst, an agricultural policy researcher at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Before the almond industry passed its own federal marketing order in 1950, fewer almonds than pecans were sold, according to pecan council chair Mike Adams, who cultivates 600 acres of pecan trees near Caldwell, Texas. Now, while almonds appear in everything from cereal to milk substitutes, Adams calls the pecan “the forgotten nut.”

“We’re so excited to have an identity, to break out of the pie shell,” said Molly Willis, a member of the council who owns an 80-acre pecan farm in Albany, Georgia, a supplement to her husband’s family’s peanut-processing business.

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Navajo Nation marks 150th anniversary of return to homeland

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A long-lost original copy of a historic treaty signed in 1868 by leaders of one of the nation’s largest American Indian tribes and the U.S. government will go on display later this year as the Navajo Nation commemorates a dark, but significant chapter of history.

Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez and other tribal officials gathered Tuesday in Albuquerque to detail some of the events that will mark the signing of the treaty 150 years ago.

That treaty is what cleared the way for tribal members to return to their homeland in the heart of the American Southwest after being rounded up years earlier by the U.S. cavalry and forced to make an arduous and deadly trek hundreds of miles to a camp in eastern New Mexico.

Nez recounted the hardships of what came to be known as the Long Walk, saying many Navajos died along the route to Bosque Redondo. He also talked about those who stayed behind and hid in canyons and on mesa tops, often foregoing the warmth of a fire to avoid capture.

“We want our younger generation to know about our history,” Nez told a room packed with tribal officials and reporters.

He also talked about problems facing tribal communities, from suicide to alcoholism, drug addiction and violence. He said he wants to tap into the resilience of those Navajo ancestors who endured the hardships of the 1800s.

“What this will do is inspire, encourage our people out there that they can’t give up, to jump back up, dust themselves off and to fight even harder than ever before for what they believe in,” Nez said.

Navajo President Russell Begaye has said this year’s commemoration is also about telling the story of the Long Walk, the signing of the treaty and the return home from the perspective of Native Americans. He and other tribal officials say one goal is to address what they called a “legacy of misrepresentation” that has stemmed from that era.

Before research and planning began for this year’s events, there were only two known copies of the historic treaty. The whereabouts of one is now a mystery and the other has been kept by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The third copy turned up only recently when the relatives of a peace commissioner who was involved in the negotiation and signing of the treaty in 1868 found the document in a trunk in the family attic.

It was rolled up and bound with the original but faded ribbon. It was in pristine condition along with notes and other documents that historians hope might fill in some of the blanks from that time.

Pages of that copy will be on display starting in June at the Bosque Redondo Memorial near Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The National Archives is partnering with the Navajo Nation to display the other original copy at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, for the month of June.

It took more than two years of planning to make the exhibition possible as this marks only the second time an original treaty has gone back to a homeland.

Museum director Manny Wheeler said the treaty is more than just a document to the Navajo people.

“When I saw the document and I saw the marks of all of our leaders on that paper, it is a powerful thing and it is very much so opening up dialogue among all Navajos about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler suggested that as much as the document was key to the Navajos’ past, it also has the power to change the future by awaking tribal members to the importance of preserving their culture and language.

The leaders of the Navajo Nation’s three branches of government signed a proclamation earlier this year declaring 2018 as the year of the treaty, and the tribe launched a website .

The commemoration also includes a day of prayer across the Navajo Nation, cultural nights, tours of the tribal council chambers and a run that will span more than 400 miles (644 kilometers) from Fort Sumner to the Navajo capital.

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Push to legalize marijuana upends governor’s race in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on Thursday called for the expansion of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and for legalization of recreational use, saying the poverty-stricken state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues and jobs that could be spurred by the industry.

Apodaca released his plan solidifying his position as a supporter of legalization as the race for governor heats up.

Apodaca pointed to New Mexico’s history as the first state to allow for research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug. It was his father, then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who signed that legislation in 1978.

The research program stalled and it wasn’t until 2008 that New Mexico rolled out its medical cannabis program.

“Why are we shooting for being the last to legalize cannabis for adult use?” Apodaca said.

The push for legalization comes as New Mexico’s medical marijuana program has grown exponentially in just the last two years. Producers licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86 million in 2017 and the number of patients enrolled now tops 50,000.

“We know the medical benefits of it. And we also know the opportunities of legalization for adult use,” Apodaca said, suggesting expansion of the long-standing medical marijuana program along with legalization could result in an estimated $200 million of additional tax revenues for the state.

The state’s largest producer, Ultra Health, announced that it has acquired farmland in southern New Mexico and has plans for what the industry says could be the largest cultivation facility in North America.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile (81 hectares) in Otero County. It will include 20 acres (8 hectares) of indoor cultivation, 80 acres (32 hectares) of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres (40 hectares) of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from expanded medical use and possibly recreational use.

Apodaca’s plan calls for lifting the current limits on the number of plants producers can grow and reducing costly licensing fees.

Other Democratic candidates have been more cautious.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would work with state lawmakers to ensure there are adequate health, safety and enforcement measures in place. She called for a “thorough analysis” of recreational pot programs in other states as part of that effort.

Lujan Grisham was in charge of the state Health Department when the medical marijuana program began. Aside from the legalization debate, she said supporting producers to create the latest medicines and methods to help patients would help create jobs and expand the industry.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, another Democratic candidate, has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state is lacking infrastructure and isn’t ready yet to legalize.

Cervantes recently lauded efforts at the local level by the state’s largest city — Albuquerque — to decriminalize possession of small amounts. He said he would do the same as governor and that it would mark a first step.

Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization at a forum earlier this month. He said it might create a stumbling block for people trying to climb out of poverty and addiction to other drugs.

“I just don’t see how it fits that we’re going to deal with addiction and yet we’re going to tell people, ‘This one is OK.’ I’ve watched it for a lifetime. I just am very nervous with recreational marijuana,” he said.

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