By Olivier Uyttebrouck for the Albuquerque Journal

Medical marijuana patients in Albuquerque and Santa Fe can go to a nearby dispensary to obtain their marijuana. But patients in rural New Mexico – many of them ill – often are forced to meet with delivery drivers in parking lots of businesses such as McDonald’s and Wal-Mart to purchase their pot.

That puts them at risk of violating federal drug laws, violates their privacy and puts them in danger because they have to carry cash, according to a lawsuit filed against the state Department of Health.

Landscaping and Horticulture are What Make the Minerva Canna Group Inc. Tick

By Rob Meagher for Cannabis Business Executive

Erik Briones entrepreneurial career started at a young age, and you could say it prepared him for the challenge of launching a vertically integrated operation like Minerva Canna Group back in 2011.

While still in high school, he started a landscaping business that helped cover the cost of his degree in horticulture. After graduating, Erik went into teaching, where he taught vocational horticulture, which supplemented his income while he continued with his landscaping business. Eventually he left the world of academia and devoted his efforts to building a landscape and design business which, at its peak, was employing 130 people.

In 1993, he started a nursery as well and eventually sold the landscape and design business, and he went on to operate the nursery for the next 13 years. It eventually grew to over 90 employees and two locations, one in Albuquerque and the other in Rio Rancho, New Mexico until 2008-09 when the effects of the recession finally took hold.

Not one to sit still, this lifelong entrepreneur decided to take his 35 plus years of experience building and running successful businesses into the scramble to play in New Mexico’s developing medical marijuana field, and he successfully entered the space in 2011.

Erik liked the idea of getting involved in patient care and education, and it married nicely with his horticultural background. Today his company is one of the largest — if not THE largest — producer, processor and retailers in the state.

And, his vision for the business is reflected in the company’s crystal clear mission statement:

To deliver the best medicinal experience to our Members, we make the following promise”

  • Using pesticides and growth hormones might be better for the grower, but not for our patients. So because we’re here to provide our patients with the best medical cannabis possible we never touch the stuff, and neither will you.
  • Although the legal growth of medical cannabis is new to New Mexico, our founder has been growing plants for over 32 years. As an owner of two garden nurseries staffed with horticulture professionals, we have decades of growing experience on our side, and now so do our patients.
  • We’re in this business to make a difference in the quality of the medicine we grow so we use innovative packaging that means our patients will get a product that is fresh from the growing facility, and will stay that way
  • We will lead the charge to ensure that the medical Cannabis Industry in New Mexico will thrive and patients will have access to the best medicine when they need it. Beyond growing, we support the cause and our patients through advocacy, education, understanding and patient-to-patient communication.

The execution of their mission since Day One has helped Minerva experience growth every month since its launch, even with the restrictive plant limitations that have caused product shortages in New Mexico since the beginning.

Erik tells me that his background came in handy during the lean supply year’s that New Mexico suffered (2013-2014) when Minerva was able to maximize yields but never ran out of the 10-15 strains that they make available to patients, and, the trim for their edible and extract lines. The plant limitations did slow Minerva’s growth trajectory, but best practices have continued to move the business forward.

With 38 employees (and more coming), Minerva has a unique compensation program that encourages dedication, loyalty and a commitment to the company’s goals and mission statement. They have a generous Sep IRA program in place for employees that have worked with them for two or more years which allows team members to earn an additional 25 percent invested in the retirement program. Additionally, they look for employees with strong a work ethic and family values, traits that transfer wonderfully in the cash business of medical cannabis.

To deal with the IRS 280E issues all operators in the Cannabis Industry face, Minerva was innovative in setting up the retail mall concept that houses the Albuquerque flagship location. Erik told CBE that adding a heavy retail component provides patients with a more convenient experience while also helping him with his annual tax bill. Plus, it also helps him position the business for the potential addition of legal recreational cannabis in the state.

Minerva has focused on creating a brand and a patient experience that is expressed in every detail of the operation — from the highly trained patient advocates, a wellness curriculum through packaging and quality product control. And like many of the other successful ventures CBE has written about, the menu that Minerva serves is diverse and well-balanced.

On the challenges-faced front, Erik indicated that the biggest learning curve that Minerva has experienced to date had to do with creating their bakery and edible lines, two areas where his background experience was lacking.

With 2016 shaping up to be a banner year with the plant increase issued by the state, Erik and his team are expanding operations to take advantage of the new yield. With about 75 percent of New Mexico’s patients registered with Minerva, Erik and his team have opened a second retail location, Minerva Los Lunas, and are looking towards the day when recreational comes to the state.

Their goal is to have a location in each of the major markets in state and an operation that has scaled to serve them. With that in mind, they are looking to launch a third location this year as well as expanding Minerva’s indoor grow and warehouse capability.

Minerva has also won a cultivation license in Nevada and is eying Arizona, so Erik is working to expand his proven model if the right opportunity presents itself. And we are sure that it will, as sure as the consistency in the growth that this well-oiled operation has experienced in its first five years.


Background Information

Company Name: Minerva Canna Group, INC

Year Founded: 2011

Ownership structure/operating entities: Non-profit and S corp.

Owner/CEO: Erik Briones

Management Team: Six (6) division managers: Grow, production, two dispensary managers, bakery, office

Headquarters: Albuquerque, New Mexico


Industry Segment/Category: Producer, Processor, Retailer

Current Markets/States Served: New Mexico

Current Number of employees: 38

Market Strategy/Goal: To provide an exceptional cannabis experience; meeting the objectives of our medical patients; providing quality cannabis and supporting merchandise in safe and attractive venues.

2014 Revenues: $2.6 million

2015 Projected Year-end Revenues $4.3 Million

Product Mix: Cannabis flower, pre-rolls, wax, oils, 50 plus bakery items, drinks, salves, tinctures, massage oils, Life Style store: glass, vaporizers, hemp clothing, Grow Shop: all growing supplies, lights, fans etc. Wellness Center: message, body adjustments, doctor consultations.

Expansion Plans: Open third dispensary, expand grow facility to include greenhouses and 3,000 sq. ft. additional indoor grow.

Financing strategy: Self financing

05/12/14 - By Peter St. Cyr, Santa Fe Reporter

med marijuana file.widea

Proposed new regulations on New Mexico’s medical cannabis program include steep fee increases for both patients and producers, but insiders say they don’t adequately address a supply shortage.

Late Friday afternoon, administrators recommended a 50 percent cut in the number of plants licensed patients can grow at home from four plants to two plants. If the proposals are adopted, patients will also have to ante up $50 for annual patient registry identification card renewals, maintain ongoing relationships with their primary doctors and in some cases, pay for repetitive medical tests.

Patients who still want to grow two mature plants will pay an additional $30 application fee.

But it’s the state’s 23 nonprofit producers who face the sharpest cost increases. In February, producers were notified that they would be allowed to grow more plants in an effort to reduce chronic shortages of the medication, but should expect “reasonable fee increases.”

PUBLISHED: Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 12:05 am

Kudos to Erik Briones for going where New Mexico’s Department of Health still refuses to go. The medical marijuana producer recently opened the doors of his Los Ranchos business, Minerva Canna, to highlight a recent $60,000 expansion, designed to make things more convenient for his clients and more conducive to his bottom line.

Meanwhile, the Health Department continues to keep all information about the individuals and businesses it has licensed to prescribe, produce and sell medical pot behind closed doors. Even though many of those advertise online, tout their state licenses, include their bricks-and-mortar addresses and go so far as to promote weekly specials and punch-cards for frequent buyers.

DOH says its list of 23 licensed providers “is only available to active, qualified patients. Once a patient is enrolled in the program, a list of licensed nonprofit producers is provided with the patient ID card. This information is confidential and should be kept safe for the protection and safety of all concerned.”

Of course, as with many businesses, there are safety risks to growing and selling medical pot. That’s why, like banks and convenience stores, Briones has installed cameras to monitor every corner of his building. And why, as with conventional drug stores, he has added special shutters to protect the windows at night.

It’s much harder to protect the public from seven years of DOH secrecy, which has resulted in medical marijuana shortages, price gouging and poor quality, according to some of the 10,818 patients. It has allowed individuals with criminal records to apply for dispensary licenses in secret. It has allowed the vast majority of medical marijuana prescriptions to be written for the hardest-to-pinpoint of 19 conditions (PTSD is No. 1; chronic pain No. 2) without question. And it has allowed for a curiously high rate of prescriptions to come from a small number of physicians and from rural counties.

Read more

PUBLISHED: Friday, April 18, 2014 at 12:05 am

Meet the state’s new medical marijuana shopping experience.

The Minerva Canna Group, one of New Mexico’s 23 licensed nonprofit medical cannabis producers, has launched what owner Erik Briones calls a mall-like experience for its clients. Customers at the Los Ranchos facility can now shop for a vaporizer, growing supplies and maybe even a hemp T-shirt while they pick up their medical pot.

Briones said adding a heavy retail component to the 4-year-old operation provides his more than 4,000 registered clients with a more convenient experience, while also helping him with his annual tax bill.

But the move is also about positioning. Should New Mexico go the way of Colorado and Washington and legalize recreational marijuana, Briones thinks he would already have a solid business model in place.

“We’re certainly trying to put ourselves in that position to be ahead of the pack and have a facility ready for that day,” he said. “But, in the meantime, we’re really just trying to provide services for our patients.”

For now, Minerva remains closed to all but card-carrying members of New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program. A staff member stationed at the front door checks to make sure everyone who enters has the right credentials.

Read more

Many NM cannabis patients have hear us talk about "layering" cannabis medicines to help with chronic pain or to keep medicated throughout the day. Layering is a concept that uses the different properties of bud, edibles and even topical applications to deliver medication in their unique way, to help you stay medicated or to increase levels of medication.

Each of us have different needs when using medicinal cannabis but one need remains the same: the delivery of enough cannabis in a way that meets your needs. The trick as an individual is to find the right strains, delivery methods, and amounts that will be effective for your particular health needs. For most of us, the goal is to take enough medicine to help our condition while having energy during the day, and being able to sleep at night.

Because smoking cannabis is different than eating it or using a topical, it can often be helpful to combine two or three different cannabis "layers" to find the right mix for you.
Below are three common ways to layer your cannabis to meet your needs:

Layer your cannabis strains. As you know, every strain is different and will affect you differently. The old rule of sativas for day and indicas for night is based on their characteristics and is a good rule to follow. Different strains can compliment each other and may be used together to tune in a specific desired effect. One example is combining a high THC sativa strain with a high CBD indica strain to create an uplifting, energetic, functioning daytime medicine that doesn't keep you yawning all day. However, this would not be a good idea at night because it would keep you awake, so you can substitute the sativa strain with an indica strain for a more relaxing, pain fighting experience.

Layer your delivery method. Each delivery method (inhaled, ingested, or applied topically) provides different benefits. Topicals give you a boost of CBDs, edibles give you long lasting body effects, and you can experience immediate effects from inhaling. It is not uncommon for patients to start their daily pain management with a layer of topical cannabis on their skin, eat an edible, and then vaporize, if needed, while the edible kicks in.  Or, many patients will take a small puff of cannabis for the immediate effect, then follow it with an edible that will stay in their system longer and "top up" throughout the day with a puff as needed.

Layer your dosage times. If you know that your edible will provide you benefits for about 4 hours, you might consider taking another edible about 3 hours after the first.  That will give the second edible time to digest before you feel its effect. Or, if it is going to take an hour for your edible to take effect and you need relief before then, you can layer by inhaling your cannabis or using a topical for more immediate effects.

A good way to start layering is to pay close attention to how each ingestion method affects you based on how much you ingest. If you know how a puff of 15%THC feels by itself, and how 15 milligrams of THC in a brownie feels by itself, and how a topical feels by itself, you can start experimenting to know how they feel when taken together and in various combinations.

The important thing to keep in mind that each ingestion method has its own pros and cons but by layering them, you might find the best solution for you.