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The Albuquerque City Council on Thursday took a light-handed approach to the recreational cannabis industry, rebuffing a series of proposals that would have barred new marijuana shops on most parts of Central Avenue and other “main streets” and imposed signage and business hour restrictions.
As part of its annual zoning code update, the council also declined to implement a proposed rule from Mayor Tim Keller’s administration to keep cannabis retailers from opening new shops within 1,000 feet of each other or “adult entertainment” or “adult retail” operations. It also dismissed Council President Cynthia Borrego’s suggested ban on cannabis shops within 300 feet of religious institutions.
During an often-technical six-hour special meeting devoted solely to the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance, the council did approve some regulations to govern how the newly legalized recreational cannabis market can operate in the state’s largest city. That includes setting a distance of 600 feet between marijuana retailers unless the operator succeeds with a conditional use application that requires a public process.
It also created separate standards for cannabis “microbusiness” licensees, giving them more latitude when it comes to locations, something sponsor Lan Sena said was intended to promote equity and ensure smaller operators have a chance to succeed against those with the most resources.
“This kind of puts others at a more level playing field,” Sena said.
The rules were all wrapped into the annual IDO update bill, which the council passed on a 6-3 vote and included several non-cannabis related changes. It will, for example, open up additional opportunities for RV parks and drive-thrus, while reducing the areas where liquor and nicotine retail is automatically allowed.
But cannabis dominated much of the discussion Thursday night, as the council voted on 15 marijuana-related IDO amendments.
Keller’s administration successfully promoted an amendment to “grandfather” in existing medical cannabis operators. They will be allowed to continue uninterrupted and expand into the recreational market even if their existing location is not compliant with the new cannabis-related rules.
But most of Keller’s proposals – which officials in his administration said were based mostly on their review of regulations in other communities that already have legalized recreational marijuana – failed to gain traction, including one that would have prevented new cannabis retailers abutting “Main Street” corridors, which include large stretches of Central Avenue, plus parts of San Pedro, Fourth Street, Bridge and Broadway.
Councilor Pat Davis said it did not make sense to keep a legal business from operating on Central when other industries are not subject to the same restrictions, while Councilor Trudy Jones noted that she’d talked to Central Avenue business owners who said they are struggling and would welcome any vitality the recreational cannabis industry might bring.
“They would very much like to have some traffic and some business,” she said, adding that the people she spoke to do not see the cannabis industry as “harmful.”
Officials in Keller’s administration say their proposals sparked a necessary dialogue and made a difference in the ultimate outcome, keeping the city more in line with Durango, Colorado, than Trinidad, Colorado, a small community known for its heavy concentration of marijuana outlets.
“Without our Administration’s timely action, Albuquerque’s cannabis implementation would have been a complete free for all. That’s why it’s important that Council took action tonight and promptly added some sensible regulations,” Chief of Staff Mike Puelle said in a written statement.
Davis – who had been critical of some of the mayor’s proposed restrictions even before Thursday – said in a statement after the meeting he was proud the council did not pass Keller’s proposed restrictions and “chose instead to believe that we are smart enough to get this right.”
But there was some concern about the council’s cannabis actions even within the membership. Sena joined Klarissa Peña and Borrego in voting against the overall IDO update, saying she felt the council had been forced to rush through pivotal decisions about cannabis.
Peña, meanwhile, said she worried about big operators saturating the market before the small ones can even enter and the potential that the city is “steamrolling” people of color.
“I don’t want to look back and see we didn’t do our due diligence in terms of shoot, man, just us getting run over again,” she said.