ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – With the recreational cannabis industry gearing up to enter Albuquerque, city councilors are preparing to decide how to regulate new cannabis retailers and growers. As requested by Mayor Tim Keller, the council will consider updated zoning ordinances that would restrict the industry beyond what state laws require.
The proposed changes — which would apply to any retailers selling or manufacturing recreational cannabis — include prohibiting customer visits between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. and limiting the location and use of signs on marijuana businesses. Retailers selling only medicinal cannabis would be exempt from the changes. The amendments would also prohibit cannabis retailers from setting up shop within 660 feet of “main street” areas, according to a May 12 city council document.
Main streets, as defined by the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Comprehensive Plan are corridors “characterized by linear development along a pedestrian-friendly street, typically emphasizing small and local retail and office uses.” There are several main streets in Albuquerque including sections of Central Avenue, 4th Street, Isleta Boulevard, and Broadway Boulevard.
Main streets in Albuquerque focus on pedestrian access and local retail.
Linda Trujillo, the superintendent of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department — the group in charge of state-level regulation of cannabis — says that local jurisdictions like the City of Albuquerque have the leeway to decide the “time, place, and manner” in which cannabis businesses operate, as long as the restrictions are “reasonable.” But it’s not entirely clear what restrictions are reasonable. Still, she says there is logic behind the rules, at least at the state level.
“It is about safety,” Trujillo says. “For example, the [rule to keep cannabis businesses] 300 feet from a school or daycare center. That’s absolutely in relation to trying to ensure that our youth are safe and that they’re not being targeted for advertisements.” The proposed Albuquerque amendments expand on that to include keeping retailers 300 feet from religious institutions as well.
By requiring cannabis retailers to stay away religious organizations spread across the city, the proposed rules are more restrictive than the state-required distancing laws. Data: Orgcouncil.com
KRQE reached out to the mayor’s office on multiple occasions to learn what the goal of the restrictions were or if they had been suggested by any local coalitions or business owners. Tim Keller’s office failed to respond directly and instead deferred comment to the city’s planning department.
The department’s planning director, Brennon Williams, pointed out that reworking the zoning ordinance is a once-a-year process, so without making changes now, “there would be minimal protections for neighborhoods for over a year.” And the proposed amendments are a result of the city examining how other communities outside New Mexico have dealt with cannabis. A key goal, he said in a statement, is preserving Old Town and other historic neighborhoods.
KRQE also reached out to several organizations representing citizens or businesses located along Albuquerque’s main streets. Only one responded: Gary Eisner, the president of the Nob Hill Neighborhood Association, said that the group hasn’t yet formed an opinion on the issue.
Pat Davis – an Albuquerque council member, and cannabis industry consultant – has been outspoken on the issue. He says that the changes are unreasonable and could hurt the industry. “There may be some other changes that we could do on a neighborhood level to ensure that people feel more comfortable,” he says. “But this is a bridge too far.”
In addition to limiting the location of cannabis businesses, the changes would also restrict what retailers can and can’t display on their signs. Retailers would be “limited to wall signs” that contain only information about the business name, the operating hours, and the “identifying nature of the business.”
And under the proposed rules, signs aren’t allowed to use depictions of the marijuana plant. Yet the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department’s website says that local jurisdictions cannot “prohibit or limit signage identifying a business as a cannabis establishment if it’s attached to or located on the business premises.” KRQE News 13 asked Trujillo if the proposed changes were contrary to state law.
“It’s possible that [restricting the use of marijuana leaf images on signs] might not be reasonable,” she said. She also pointed out the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department isn’t required to publish rules on cannabis signs and advertisements until January of 2022.
So as debate continues in Albuquerque, there’s still time for statewide regulators to clarify rules. But, Trujillo says now is a good time for local jurisdictions like Albuquerque to have discussions on how to regulate the industry.
“The legislature interested local jurisdictions to try to figure out what was best for their communities, and we’re going to take that lead,” Trujillo says. “So, we’re trusting local jurisdictions to know their communities and to make those decisions.”
Albuquerque, Trujillo says, is leading the pack in terms of working through local rules, but other communities are likely to have their own rulemaking discussions in the near future. “I’m not aware that another community has gotten to the place that Albuquerque has to, like, introduce something, but I will tell you that we’ve had multiple conversations with jurisdictions with questions and answers,” she says.