On March 31, in a special session of the New Mexico legislature, the state became the 18 state to legalize recreational cannabis . New Mexico already has a medical cannabis program that has more than 107,000 enrolled patients. The new recreational sale law takes effect July 1 and sales are to begin no later than April 1, 2022.
Under the state law, cannabis establishments can also offer on-site consumption in certain circumstances. The state law allows people 21 years or older to buy, possess and use marijuana outside the home of up to 2 ounces of marijuana. People will be able to buy no more than 2 ounces of cannabis or 800 milligrams of edible cannabis. There are also limits on extracts.
The state will regulate all sellers and there will be no limits on the number of licenses issued. This is a dramatic departure from the limited number of licenses available in liquor licenses which have a cap based upon population. There will be a cap on the number of plants sellers can grow. Households would be permitted to grow up to 12 mature plants for personal use.
The New Mexico Cannabis Control Division is in charge of making statewide rules and regulations for the new industry. On Tuesday, May 26, it was reported that the first proposed rules dealing primarily with marijuana producer license and plant fees were released. The link to the proposed regulations is here:
The first proposed state regulations deal with marijuana producer license and plant fees. The drafted sets the cost of both producer and retailer licenses at $2,500 annually. Licenses for cannabis consumption areas, or designated places where adults can smoke, eat or drink cannabis products, would cost $2,500 annually under the draft rule. The state regulations must be adopted in order to meet the specific deadlines for implementing the law. The deadlines for the regulations under the state law are as follows:
No later than September 1: Start accepting and processing license applications from producers.
No later than Jan. 1, 2022: Start issuing licenses and server permits; begin training and education programs.
No later than April 1, 2022: Begin retail sales of recreational cannabis.
ABQ CITY COUNCIL ENACTS ZONING REGULATIONS ON SALES AND HOURS OF OPERATION
A major provision of the enacted state law is that local jurisdictions, city and counties, cannot opt out of commercial sales, but can establish restrictions on operating hours and locations. The state legislation gives local governments some authority to determine where cannabis dispensaries can be located. The state’s 14 counties do not have the authority to prohibit cannabis sales nor prohibit the licensing of stores.
On June 17, 2021, the Albuquerque City Council held a special council meeting to offer amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) that establishes the rules to regulate the recreational cannabis industry. The council meeting lasted several hours where public input was allowed. Twenty-one amendments to the ordinance were offered, debated and voted upon. One of the 21 amendments was withdrawn.
Public comments addressed everything from distance regulations to clarifying how existing medical cannabis retailers will be affected. The city council adopted an amendment that medical-only retailers do not fall under the new zoning restrictions, but are “grandfathered” in.
MAYOR KELLER’S ORGINAL PROPOSED RESTRICTIONS
Mayor Tim Keller had requested the City Council enact amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance that would limit any marijuana dispensary to operate within 300 feet from any school, daycare, church or residential neighborhood. It is essentially identical to restrictions place on bars and adult entertainment establishments by state law. The proposed ordinance also said they could not open within 660 feet from any main street.
As was originally written, Keller’s proposed zoning restrictions would have barred cannabis businesses from opening on streets abutting “Main Street” corridors, which included the large stretches of Central Avenue, plus parts of San Pedro, Fourth Street, Bridge and Broadway and included the Nob Hill Central Area.
According to the Keller Administration, the regulations proposed were based mostly on their review of regulations in other communities that already have legalized recreational marijuana
On June 2, it was reported that the Keller Administration had modified the zoning proposal that would have heavily restricted where the legalized recreational marijuana market could operate in Albuquerque. Ostensibly, the first proposal was rushed because the city has only one opportunity per year to update its zoning code.
The yearly updating of the comprehensive zoning code was already underway when state lawmakers in April voted to legalize recreational cannabis. Keller’s initial proposal would have blocked new shops from opening in Nob Hill and areas of Downtown and limited opportunities in mixed-use zones. According to the Keller Administration, the original proposal was based largely on other communities around the U.S. that have already legalized recreational marijuana and the frameworks they have instituted.
On June 2 after objections by the industry were raised, the Keller Administration released an updated proposal. The new proposal from the Keller administration would:
1. Prohibit cannabis dispensaries on the five roads designated as “Main Streets,” which include much of Central Avenue and parts of Fourth, Broadway, San Pedro and Bridge, where considerable public money has been spent on revitalization.
2. Allows cannabis storefronts on side streets from the identified main streets reversing the original proposal barring them for 660 feet off the main streets.
3. Cannabis dispensary licensing application proposed within 300 feet of a residential mixed-use zone would be required to get “conditional use” approval through a public hearing.
4. Mandates 1,000 feet between cannabis retail businesses.
5. Time of operation for all retail sales dispensaries would be limited to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
6. Off-premise, roadway signs would be prohibiting. State law allows signs of any size on the actual buildings.
7. All of the 47 current medical cannabis dispensaries in Albuquerque will be grandfathered in even if they become a recreational cannabis retail site regardless of what zoning is put in place.
The link source material is here:
CITY COUNCIL VOTES NO ON KELLER’S ZONING RESTRCITONS
Several of the amendments adopted amounted to a rejection of what Mayor Keller wanted. The council vote no 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. The council also voted no on a ban on cannabis shops within 300 feet of religious institutions which was sponsored by City Council President Cynthia Borrego.
The council approved amendments to the IDO to govern how newly legalized recreational cannabis market can operate in the city. Those zoning restrictions regulations include setting a distance of 600 feet between marijuana retailers unless the operator succeeds with a conditional use application that requires a public hearing before a city hearing officer and subject to appeal.
Councilor Pat Davis proposed several amendments that relaxed where cannabis businesses could operate, including removing some distancing rules for cannabis cultivators and manufacturers looking to operate near residential zones. Those amendments were enacted. Davis explained it this way:
“[Manufacturing] businesses are not open to the public. They are just simply facilities to operate and prepare products for other places and don’t usually have any impacts on the neighbors.”
One major proposal Mayor Keller wanted was to strictly prohibit retail sales of recreational sale of cannabis from main street corridors such as Central Avenue. The amendment was sponsored by Republican Trudy Jones at the request of the Democrat Mayor. The council voted eight to one against the amendment with Councilor Trudy Jones also voting no even though she was the sponsor. Jones explained she had talked to Central Avenue business owners who said they are struggling and would welcome any vitality the recreational cannabis industry might bring and said:
“I am sponsoring this by request [of Mayor Keller]. They would very much like to have some traffic and some business.”
Jones added that the business people she spoke to do not see the cannabis industry as “harmful.”
Keller’s proposed restrictions on what can be displayed on cannabis business signs also failed.
The only amendment offered by the Keller Administration that passed was to “grandfather” in existing medical cannabis operators. The medical cannabis operators 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.
The council also enacted separate standards for cannabis “microbusiness” licensees, giving them more latitude when it comes to locations. The amendment was sponsored by Democrat Lan Sena who told the council it was intended to promote “equity” and ensure smaller operators could compete with those with greater financial resources.
After public comments and several hours of discussion, the council voted on each of the 20 proposed amendments. Councilor Lan Sena complained that the process to decide how to regulate the cannabis industry in Albuquerque seemed a bit rushed and told the councilors:
“I really do struggle with the fact that we did rush through an industry that was so new without having more guidelines from the state “I really do wish that there was more time so that we could have more people at the table, specifically those that are still awaiting expungement — for those that have previously been incarcerated and harmed and wanted to be part of this conversation. … We do not decriminalize cannabis every two months. … it’s a once-in-a-generation decision and for us to have gone through so fast, I just will be voting ‘no’ in the overall ordinance.”
The Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) is open for amendments only once each year, and the deadline to amend it was fast approaching leaving the city council no choice to act now. As the industry develops, amendments to the IDO can be made in future years.
CITY COUNCIL TEMPORARILY BANS CANNABIS SHOPS IN HISTORIC OLD TOWN
On June 21, the Albuquerque City Council voted unanimously 9-0 to temporarily ban cannabis shops from operating in Old Town Albuquerque.
City Councilors established a moratorium to stop cannabis sales, cultivation and manufacturing use in Old Town until July 2022 or until the city’s zoning code updates are released.
The temporary ban was done to will allow the Council to touch base with Old Town merchants, stakeholders, among other groups before allowing the historic area to open cannabis stores.
Links to news sources are here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There is little doubt that New Mexico has the real potential to be “a production juggernaut” and a magnet for tourists and cannabis users from Arizona and Texas. Arizona legalized recreational cannabis last year but Texas has not.
The Albuquerque City Council can take comfort that they enacted responsible and reasonable zoning restrictions on what will in all likely be a major industry in the state and city. Given the fact that the IDO can only be amended once a year, acting now was necessary.
The city Council needs to enact an ordinance to mandate requirements that need to be included for all recreational cannabis businesses that seek a business license to do business in the city that will prevent them from becoming magnets for crime and would include:
1. Security cameras and uniform security personnel.
2. Mandatory background checks and periodic drug testing of all employees as a condition of employment.
3. Storage of all product in secured areas reducing access after hours of operation, such as used by jewelry stores to prevent thefts.
4. Mandatory nuisance abatement agreements before the city issues a license to do business where the business owner agrees to take remedial measures in the event the business reaches a level of calls for service as a result of criminal activity.
Both the city and the industry need to think broadly about the future of New Mexico’s marijuana industry. The decisions made now as to zoning restrictions and requirements to do business before the state regulations are adopted will have unintended consequences if not careful.
ONE READER’S REACTION
A reader of this blog article offered the following observations that merit publication:
I’m retired from the security industry (guard service). In my years of operations and consulting I’ve developed a preference to avoid the use of uniformed personnel in bank lobbies, check-cashing services, liquor stores, and – now – cannabis establishments. It is rare to see a security guard who really looks and acts the part, especially where the duties are limited and boring in the extreme. Guns are not appropriate, either, except in very unusual circumstances. Police have more than enough trouble with guns, but a security guard with minimal training presents a real challenge. Guns should be prohibited from the establishment (as is presently the case with on-sale liquor businesses and others where management forbids them) though properly trained staff might appropriately carry firearms.
What I’d recommend is more reliance of actual physical and electronic security arrangements using separate lobbies, excellent cameras and recording devices in secured locations, a variety of intrusion detection devices, and high-end security structures for product storage. Communication between the establishment and a reliable central station and on to the police is critically needed. The police must have a protocol that assigns high priority to any alarm from a cannabis retailer. Beyond that, security and licensing procedures that are similar to that faced by on- and off-sale liquor establishments seems appropriate.
I don’t know how long the present increased level of cannabis interest and consumption will last. The rules we establish should be both stringent and flexible to account for potential future need, whether increased or diminished.
Following are the amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance as numbered and that passed or failed on a majority or unanimous vote:
WHAT AMENDMENTS PASSED
B5: Clarifies existing language in the IDO about how odors are to be mitigated and moves the responsibility of enforcement from the Environmental Health Department to the Planning Department. (Unanimous vote)
B6: Adds to the IDO the phrase “licensed premise”, and changes existing distances separations from 330 feet to 300 feet to be consistent with state law, and adds preschool to the definition of day care. (Unanimous vote)
B8 Adds a definition for on-site consumption. (Unanimous vote.)
DISTANCE AND SEPARATION REQUIREMENTS
B12: Adds a distance separation requirement between Cannabis Retail facilities of 600 feet (Davis sponsored, Passed 6 Yes, 3 No)
B14 Removes the distance separation requirement for Cannabis Cultivation and Cannabis Manufacturing from a residential zone district (Davis sponsored, passed 7 YES, 2 NO)
B15 Would allow Cannabis Cultivation and Cannabis Manufacturing to occur within 300 feet of a residential zone district, school, or child day care facility with a Conditional Use approval. (Davis sponsored, 7 YES, 2 No)
ZONING AND GODFATHERING AMENDMENTS
B18 Would allow Cannabis Manufacturing in more zones and adds a square foot limitation for Cannabis Manufacturing in Mixed-Use zones (Davis sponsored, 8 YES, 1 NO)
B21 Would create an exemption for most distance separation requirements for cannabis businesses operating under a Cannabis Microbusiness, as defined by the State of New Mexico. (Sena sponsor, 8 YES, 1 NO)
B19 Adds ‘grandfathering’ language to specify that existing medical-cannabis facilities will still be legal for the purposes of the IDO if they choose to pursue recreational cannabis in the future. Sponsored by Jones at the request of Mayor, passed on a 9-0 vote)
WHAT AMENDMENTS FAILED
Follow are the amendments as numbered and that FAILED on a majority or unanimous vote.
DISTANCE AND SEPARATION REQUIREMENTS
B9 contained 3 separation requirements:
1. Allows cannabis manufacturing in more zones and adds a square foot limitation for Cannabis Manufacturing in Mixed-Use zones
2. Would create an exemption for most distance separation requirements for cannabis businesses operating under a Cannabis Microbusiness, as defined by the State of New Mexico.
3. Adds a distance separation requirement between Cannabis Retail facilities of 600 feetSPONSORED BY JONES AT MAYOR’S REQUEST, FAILED WITH 8 VOTING NO.
B10: Adds a distance separation requirement between Cannabis Retail and religious institutions of 300 feet. (Sponsored by Borrego, Failed on 3 yes, 6 No)
B11: Adds a distance separation requirement between Cannabis Cultivation and Cannabis Manufacturing to a religious institution of 300 feet. (Sponsored by Borrego, FAILED; 4 Yes , 5 NO)
B13 contained 3 separation requirements
1. Would have prohibited Cannabis Retail on lots abutting a Main Street corridor, within 300 feet of a residential zone district, group home, or religious institution. (Failed: 1 YES, 8 No)
2. Would have allow Cannabis Retail to occur within 300 feet of a lot containing a residential use in a mixed-use zone district with a Conditional Use Approval. (Failed: 1 YES, 8 No)
3. Would have prohibited on-site consumption on lots abutting a Main Street corridor. (Failed: 1 YES, 8 No)
B13 was sponsored by Jones at the Mayor’s request and failed on an 8 no vote.
B16 Would restrict sign type, location, and content for all three cannabis uses (Retail, Cultivation, and Manufacturing) Sponsored by Jones at the Mayors request, FAILED with 8 voting NO.
TIMES OF OPERATIONS
B17 dealt with hours of operations and failed on a 8 no votes:
1. Would have disallowed customer visits and deliveries between 10pm and 7am for Cannabis Retail sales.
2. Would have disallowed customer visits and deliveries between 10pm and 7am for Cannabis Cultivation and Cannabis Manufacturing if located within 300 feet of a residential zone.
B20 was sponsored by jones at the request of the Mayor but was withdrawn for consideration, It would exempt integrated cannabis microbusinesses or cannabis producer microbusinesses from limitations on customer and/or delivery hours.
Following is the city link to the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) Amendments for Cannabis-related Uses listing the amendments by amendment number, what was being proposed in the amendments and the sponsors.
Links to quoted news coverage are here: