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Industry representative questions fairness of some restrictions
The draft regulations covering recreational marijuana businesses in Chaves County limit most types of industry businesses to certain zoning districts along major highways and roads and will require them to stay a far distance from places where children and the community gather, as well as operate behind fences and covered windows.
County officials have expressed concerns about public safety in prior meetings, but a representative with a state industry group says that some of the regulations seem unreasonable to him and likely to re-stigmatize a substance that has been made legal.
“It seems like, from reading this, that they think that people buy cannabis and then do whatever is the cannabis-equivalent of shooting up in an alley,” said Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce based in Albuquerque, which has Chaves County members.
“In reality, it is more like people going into a grocery store or a Walgreens or a drug store and buying what they want and then taking it home.”
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The Chaves County Planning and Zoning Department, working with the county’s legal team, developed the draft regulations and released the latest revision of them Thursday morning, two weeks ahead of the Aug. 19 public hearing about them.
Planning and Zoning Director Louis Jaramillo said county staff also drafted its new cannabis rules after looking at regulations developed by other New Mexico counties.
Similar draft regulations were also released as additions to the Roswell-Chaves County Extraterritorial Zoning (ETZ) Ordinance, which governs properties within a 2-mile radius of the Roswell city limits. The regulations differ in some respects concerning zoning districts and distances businesses are required to be from other types of facilities. They also indicate that all cannabis businesses will need to obtain special use permits.
Jaramillo said that the county and the ETZ did not have existing regulations for medical cannabis businesses and were not aware of any cannabis businesses operating outside of incorporated areas, other than commercial growers, also known as producers.
“Cannabis producers have been allowed to operate in the Agriculture-Residential District in the county, similar to dairies and other farms,” Jaramillo said.
The county and ETZ are working to have their regulations adopted by Sept. 1, which is when the state of New Mexico is expected to begin issuing producer licenses for recreational cannabis, which was legalized by the Cannabis Regulation Act passed by the state Legislature in March and signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in April. The state has had a legalized medical marijuana industry since 2007.
Other types of permits and licenses for the recreational cannabis industry are expected to be issued after January 2022, and the state will allow commercial sales starting about April 2022. Personal use and limited personal growing was allowed starting June 29.
The county regulations include the following provisions.
• People ages 21 or older can smoke, vape or ingest recreational marijuana only in indoor private settings or indoor businesses operating “cannabis consumption areas.” Individuals could own up to six mature and six immature plants.
• Cannabis producers can operate in Agriculture-Residential districts if they can verify through the New Mexico State Engineer’s Office that they have sufficient agricultural water rights.
• Cannabis retailers (which could include both medical and non-medical cannabis), consumption areas, researchers, educational organizations and testing laboratories can operate in certain commercial zoning districts. Manufacturers, extraction and processing, and integrated businesses — or those that do more than one type of cannabis-related business — can set up business in certain industrial zones. But the establishments must be located on major highways and roads. Those include U.S. 70, U.S. 82, U.S. 285, U.S. 380 and State Highway 2.
• The commercial and industrial businesses could not be within 300 feet of schools or child care facilities or within 1,000 feet of churches, community centers, parks, government facilities, adult care centers or medical facilities. There also could not be more than one retailer or consumption area business within a 1-mile radius.
• Certain building codes also would apply — including the need for fencing and covered or opaque windows — and businesses could not operate out of residences.
At the current time, the county regulations also indicate that retailers and cannabis consumption areas could operate 7 a.m. to noon, Mondays through Saturdays, and midnight to noon on Sundays. But Jaramillo said that provision could be changed at the public hearing.
He also explained that the 300-feet distances are the maximum allowed by the state law. The 1,000-feet distances and the one business per 1-mile radius were determined reasonable by county staff and are in accordance with what other counties have established, he said.
The decision to limit the non-producers to major highways and roads is “following the recommendation of the 2016 Comprehensive Master Plan for all commercial and industrial zoning to be located along the major corridors in Chaves County,” Jaramillo said.
Lewinger of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce said he and perhaps some of the local members do plan to make comments about the proposed county rules. He said some of them seemed unfair and intended to “re-stigmatize” a substance now widely accepted by other nations and states and likely to become fully legal by federal law in coming years.
He questioned whether other businesses selling legal products are subjected to the same regulations about being a mile apart or a 1,000 feet from public facilities.
He also pointed to the provisions about fencing and covered or opaque windows as indicative of unfair treatment.
“The stuff that is happening behind those windows is completely legal,” Lewinger said. “Are they asking the same thing for bars, which can have a lot more dangerous effects on children and society?”
He added that he thought it would have been a good idea for public officials to survey local residents before coming up with regulations, as happened in some other New Mexico local governments.
“I would say as a state we need to be looking forward to the time when cannabis is completely legal everywhere, and not looking backward,” he said.
The Chaves County Board of Commissioners Aug. 19 public hearing about the county regulations is scheduled for 9 a.m. in the Chaves County Administrative Center, 1 St. Mary’s Place. The ETZ Commission hearing about ETZ regulations is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 17 in the same location. Comments also can be submitted in writing or by participating in the Facebook livestream of the Board of Commissioners’ meeting.
The city of Roswell is also considering recreational cannabis rules, with its public hearing to occur as part of the Aug. 12 City Council meeting.
New Mexico is now among 18 U.S. states, two territories and the District of Columbia to have legalized recreational use of marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A report issued in June 2021 by MPG Consulting of Denver, Colorado, and Ultra Health, the largest medical marijuana provider in New Mexico, indicated that the total legal and illegal market for cannabis in New Mexico will be about $762.5 million in 2022 and is projected to grow to $786.1 million by 2026. Recreational and medical use, by pounds consumed a year, is expected to be about equal.
According to the report, the legal market will capture only about 25% of the market in 2022, but should increase to 99% of the market by 2026, depending on the licensing and permitting rules developed.
Lisa Dunlap can be reached by 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.