The Albuqueque Journal reports
Ben Lewinger has journeyed from the world of traditional business to the latest New Mexico frontier: the cannabis industry.
Once an employee of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, Lewinger now leads a much “scrappier,” but similar, organization: the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s much to my chagrin to find myself in this position now,” Lewinger says. “I am a hard-core progressive, and oftentimes, my personal views don’t align with the views of industry.
“What I do know how to do really well is broker ideas and help people understand bigger picture things in all situations. I think my niche is working on really messy, challenging things that are going to make the world a better place.”
Lewinger’s role at the traditional chamber was heading the Albuquerque Reads program, which pairs volunteer tutors with elementary students. He also has been state director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a director at the New Mexico Community Foundation.
But his biggest projects came with his role at Strategies 360, a nationwide public policy and marketing firm. Lewinger was on the team that helped launch the New Mexico United soccer team, and he worked on a successful tax-boost proposal for the BioPark in 2015. He now runs the Fable Communications marketing company with a childhood best friend.
But Lewinger still holds fast to a childhood dream: becoming a religion teacher.
“I think religion creates and conveys meaning,” Lewinger says. “It’s how we move what’s important and what matters from generation to generation. From a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a religion teacher. So if any of your readers works at UNM or CNM …”
How did you get involved in the cannabis chamber?
“I was suckered into it. I’m not a cannabis advocate. I take every opportunity I can to recognize that there are advocates who have been working on this for literally decades in New Mexico. I was just presented with this opportunity to step in and take over nine months into its existence. I think cannabis is going to be fun and challenging for awhile.”
Did anything surprise you about the rollout of recreational marijuana?
“I always say everything in this industry is 20% harder and 15% more expensive. There are things that unless you have really done your homework or unless you worked for one of the legacy operators, you wouldn’t know. Like there’s a federal tax code that basically prohibits cannabis businesses from writing off traditional business expenses, which if you didn’t budget for that and you’re running a pretty narrow margin, that can be problematic. One of the benefits that is also maybe one of the weaknesses is it’s so easy to get a license that I think, unfortunately, lots of businesses will turn over. It’s a super competitive industry, and it’s highly regulated. The profit margins are pretty narrow, despite what people would have you believe.”
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