Meet Todd Stevens, the new director for the Cannabis Control Division

Sep. 3—Todd Stevens didn't always know he'd be in the cannabis industry, let alone leading New Mexico's Cannabis Control Division.

From a small town in the Midwest — Harrisburg, Illinois — Stevens, the new director for the CCD, grew up the son of a judge and was a three-sport athlete in high school. He went to Blackburn College, where he received his bachelor's degree in secondary education and played NCAA Division III basketball.

His early career path took him to the Wabash and Ohio Valley Special Education District, where he served as a job coach by helping special education seniors transition into the job market.

"Some of (those students) had aspirations... to be a manager at Walmart. Some of them might have just been, you know, 'I really want to work at McDonald's,'" he said. "And so we worked with those students to build soft professional competencies — how to write a résumé for some of them, how to conduct an interview, how you dress for an interview, how you shake hands and things like that."

Stevens then found himself in Florida, teaching at a middle school for five years and serving as a basketball and track and field coach and student government coordinator.

But Stevens said his "pioneer spirit" led him to Colorado, where he was determined to make a career in the cannabis industry.

He started at the bottom, working face-to-face with customers in a dispensary at Native Roots Cannabis Co., before moving up the ladder to manager of training and professional development. In that role, which he assumed in 2021, Stevens designed and developed customized and interactive classroom and e-learning solutions.

Now, Stevens leads the regulating entity for the state's cannabis industry as the second official director of the CCD. He comes into the job at a time when his division has ramped up compliance enforcement, an effort aimed at eliminating bad actors in the industry. That, he says, is something he looks to continue.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Journal after his first week on the job — during which he met leaders in the industry, lawmakers and his new staff — Stevens touched on how he got into the industry and what his hopes and goals are in leading the CCD.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

You went from teaching to hopping into the cannabis industry in Colorado. I'm curious to know what sparked your interest in making that change in your career.

"The interest was the pioneer spirit. It was this fledgling industry that I had an opportunity — that once in a lifetime, once in a generation comes up where you can get on the ground floor in an industry.

"I told my father, who was a judge, that I was leaving public education, getting close to tenure and moving into this industry. And he looked at me and said two things: 'Number one, you're still going to be helping people, you'll do just fine.' And then he said, 'One day, (you and) all your friends, you're gonna have pictures and you're going to be the ones who started this all like the 49ers, like pioneers.' And it's what I mentioned to my staff — that we get to make history."

So your experience in cannabis comes with mostly one company in Colorado, Native Roots. From your résumé, it seems to be that you worked your way up to management from the bottom.

"When I joined the industry, I joined entry level. And to be honest ... with my background, my degree, and my ability to build teams — I probably could have applied for managerial positions.

"I only know one way to lead, and that is from the front and by example. And so it was an opportunity to feel out and see what the folks that I was going to be managing what their experience was, what their challenges were, what their successes were. ... And that was really important for me.

"I also wanted to really learn the industry, and so when you stair-step up, it's kind of like going to college. I got 100-level courses as a sales associate, I got 200-level courses as an assistant manager, and then store manager really prepared me for a role like this. I could not have been in this role five years ago because I would have made managerial mistakes that I didn't know I didn't know. ...

"Then the opportunity for the manager of training and development came up, and that was something that I worked with the company to kind of expand that role. One of my 'whys' — why I do things — is I'm a lifelong learner, and I love to see others succeed. So I was able to take this background where I have a passion for educating people and leave breadcrumbs in a path for people that you can enter this industry at the bottom of the barrel and work your way up. And I've always wanted to be able to do that for people, to blaze the trail and lead to the path to show others that this is possible that you can come into a new industry and build yourself up."

Did you see yourself working your way up the ladder like this in the cannabis industry?

"Yes and no. I don't think anyone sees themselves hoisting the trophy, so to speak, because you account for how you can get beat, how you can make errors. But I did have a five-year plan that I did expand once I got to store manager to 10 years. This position is kind of something that I was aiming for and not really knowing. ... I have often said (that) I will never be the most talented person in the room, I'm not the smartest person in the room, but I'm willing to outwork people and take the path less traveled, so to speak. ...

"However, I will tell you I am out of chess moves at this point. ...I will have to sit down (and) create another five- or 10-year plan. But I am just so excited to be in this role and want to serve in this role as long as the governor will have me and any future governors that would appoint me again. It aligns with my passion; it aligns with some of my beliefs. And I love the New Mexico spirit of kind of pioneer and do-it-yourself."

How do you see this role of director of the CCD in terms of shaping the cannabis industry?

"My goal ... probably can be summed up in three things: I want to create fair business practices for everyone. I want to ensure that (cannabis) stays out of the hands of the youth. And I want to help ensure that every tax dollar is going to New Mexico and that we're limiting the illicit market that's dangerous to public safety.

As New Mexicans, we're not getting our tax dollars with that illicit market. We're also running the risk of having a product that is not safe for consumption.

So those would be my biggest things. I think if we do those things, I think we're gonna have a very successful division that will rival anyone in the country."