Nov. 20—A former longtime Colorado lobbyist with deep ties to the marijuana industry has been tapped to serve as the state's new Cannabis Control Division director.
Kristen Thomson, who has a bachelor's degree in political science from Colorado State University and a graduate certificate in strategic communications from the University of Colorado, joined the division Nov. 1. Her salary is $105,000 a year. Thomson will run the division that was created as part of the state Regulation and Licensing Department to develop the framework for New Mexico's recreational cannabis industry.
Thomson did not return messages seeking comment but described herself in her résumé as "a strategic and forward-thinking senior leader with extensive experience leading external affairs strategy development and execution."
Adam Goers, a former colleague, described Thomson as confident and knowledgeable and said she brings years of experience in the cannabis industry to the job. He said other states that have transitioned from medical to recreational use have had a hard time doing so. He said he believes New Mexico will benefit from Thomson's background.
"The one thing that I think Kristen Thomson brings to this is somebody who has worked on this issue for so, so, so long and on so many different matters," said Goers, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Columbia Care, a multistate cannabis conglomerate where Thomson most recently worked.
Goers said not everyone will agree with Thomson.
"But, I will say one thing, they will know where she stands on something," he said, adding certainty is key for any business, particularly one as complicated as cannabis.
"She's going to call balls and strikes, and that's what a good regulator does," Goers added.
Goers said Columbia Care, one of the largest cultivators, manufacturers and providers of medical and adult-use cannabis products, is interested in expanding into New Mexico. Thomson's ties to the company won't give it an advantage over others, he added.
Heather Brewer, a spokeswoman for the Cannabis Control Division, wrote in an email the agency was "incredibly grateful to have someone with Kristen Thomson's impressive background in cannabis policy" at the helm.
"Kristen's experience advancing social equity and environmental sustainability while working with small cannabis producers and large companies will be invaluable as CCD continues its mission to support a thriving cannabis industry in New Mexico," she wrote.
Thomson, whose lobbying in Colorado dates to at least 2005, according to her résumé, most recently served as senior director of government affairs for Columbia Care/The Green Tree.
Columbia Care acquired The Green Tree, Colorado's largest vertically integrated cannabis operator, last year.
"Columbia Care's footprint now will cover 18 jurisdictions in the United States and the European Union," the Marijuana Business Daily reported in August 2020.
Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health, the state's largest medical cannabis operation, said Columbia Care previously made an unsolicited offer to purchase his company.
"We outright rejected it," he said. "Our work is not anywhere near done in New Mexico."
There are already two multistate operators in New Mexico, including the recent acquisition of PurLife by Arizona-based NatureMed, Rodriguez said.
"I am confident [Columbia Care] may be looking at other acquisitions in New Mexico," he said. "But considering the limited size of the market and reality that licenses are unlimited, there isn't the real attraction of buying an existing operator."
Rodriguez said he hopes Thomson's experience will improve relations between state government and marijuana businesses.
"I am hopeful that Ms. Thomson's extensive industry experience will provide some balance to treating the operators more collaboratively," he said, referring to previous clashes.
Brewer declined to disclose how many people besides Thomson applied for the director's job or how many applicants made it to the interview process — information other public agencies routinely provide upon request.
"The Cannabis Control Division is unable to discuss details of the hiring process because it is a personnel matter," she wrote.
The New Mexican filed a request Thursday under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act for all applications for the director position.
Victoria Kaniatobe, a records custodian for the Regulation and Licensing Department's Office of the Superintendent, wrote in an email she needed additional time, possibly until Dec. 3, to comply with the request.
Melanie Majors, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said information on job applicants is public information.
"The person who may be their spokesperson may be ignorant of the law; we always want to give them the benefit of the doubt," Majors said. "They may not understand the Inspection of Public Records Act. But the information is releasable. It's all fact.
"If there are letters of recommendation, anything like that, that's not releasable," she added. "But everything else that's fact is releasable."
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.