ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Following a previously postponed discussion on new rules to regulate the recreational cannabis industry, city council members voted on amendments to the city’s zoning laws in a special session on June 17, 2021. After hours of discussion, the council passed an updated Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) — the master document setting the rules for where businesses can operate in the city.
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State law sets some regulations for the new recreational cannabis industry in New Mexico. But local jurisdictions also have a bit of leeway in deciding aspects such as when cannabis businesses can operate and how many cannabis licenses can be issued in a certain area.
The state’s Cannabis Control Division is in charge of making statewide rules but is encouraging local jurisdictions to fine-tune those rules for the benefit of local communities. Linda Trujillo, the superintendent of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department explains that Albuquerque is at the forefront of addressing zoning issues.
“Albuquerque, [is] kind of like putting it on the agenda,” she explains. And by raising it as a topic of conversation, “they’re certainly going to hear from their community,” she says. At the city council’s special session, several community members did take the (virtual) floor.
Discussion and Decisions
Public comments addressed everything from distance regulations to clarifying how existing medical cannabis retailers fit into the new rules. (The council clarified that medical-only retailers don’t fall under the proposed new restrictions, but are “grandfathered” in.)
The proposed zoning amendments came from several council members. Lan Sena, for example, proposed that microbusinesses be exempt from some of the more strict regulations, including distance separation rules. Council member Pat Davis proposed several amendments that relax where cannabis businesses could operate, including removing some distancing rules for cannabis cultivators and manufacturers looking to operate near residential zones.
“These [manufacturing] businesses are not open to the public,” he explained to the council. “They are just simply facilities to operate and prepare products for other places and don’t usually have any impacts on the neighbors.”
Several proposals came by request from the mayor’s office. KRQE previously reported that the mayor’s office proposed keeping retailers away from “main street” corridors such as Central Avenue.
The council voted eight to one against that proposal. Councilor Trudy Jones explained why: “I am sponsoring this by request [if the mayor],” Jones told the council. But after receiving calls from business owners on Central, she voted against the proposal. In those phone calls, she explains, business owners said that “they are dying. They have died — on Central — and they would very much like to have some traffic and some business.”
Proposed restrictions on what can be displayed on cannabis business signs also failed. Previous KRQE reporting pointed out that Linda Trujillo from the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department will publish statewide rules on signage by January of 2022 at the latest.
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After public comments and several hours of discussion, the council voted on each proposed amendment. (Those related to cannabis are listed in the table below.) Councilor Sena, however, explained that the process to decide how to regulate this new industry in Albuquerque seemed a bit rushed.
“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,” Sena told the council. “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,” she added. Rather, 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.”
Councilor Isaac Benton pointed out that despite the challenges to setting cannabis regulations, the IDO is open for amendments each year, which means as the industry and discussion develop, changes can eventually be made.