Updated 05/22 at 1:43 p.m.
As more and more dispensaries put down roots in Taos, the question of on-site cannabis consumption areas is becoming a more frequent topic of discussion. As the town and state navigate the issue with different legal verbiage, some local businesses plan to experiment on their own.
When Steve Weiner opened Bighorn Weed on April 20, he had already set his eyes on the opening of an on-site consumption lounge. However, having his business housed in a historic building makes things difficult, and the current legislation for consumption areas does not apply to historic properties whatsoever.
But Weiner thinks he's figured out a loophole: building a consumption lounge outside.
“The ordinance only covers consumption in a building,” Weiner said, “which frankly, I think they need to consider the outdoors just because the ventilation requirements by the state health department would be so prohibitive that it would be nearly impossible to do with an existing building. You’d almost have to build an entirely new building. And all I have to do is finish off a patio that you can’t even see from the street.”
More than anything, Weiner believes it’s a question that calls for clarification. To him, since the current consumption area ordinance in the Town of Taos says nothing about outdoor lounges, he believes the matter remains up for debate.
Taos’ chapter on cannabis establishments includes a small section on consumption areas, in which it states these designated areas must be well-ventilated and filtered, so that the smell and smoke does not impede on neighboring workspaces and public spaces. The rules are concurrent with the Dee Johnson Clean Indoor Air Act, a law enacted in 2007 that prohibits smoking in most indoor public places in New Mexico. Throughout the chapter, it reiterated the illegality of consuming cannabis in public places.
Furthermore, the New Mexico Department of Health outlines boundaries of its own, specifically stating that consumption areas are not to be visible to members of the public from outside of the property of the overseeing dispensary. Other regulations note that cannabis consumption is prohibited in public, open spaces. In fact, all legal cannabis consumption in the state of New Mexico is constrained only to private residences and licensed consumption areas and lounges.
However, Weiner argues that an outdoor consumption area would be no different from what has already been defined by state and town law, adding that the area he’s designated for a consumption lounge is out of sight of the main road. Located on the corner of the Camino de la Placita-Paseo del Pueblo Norte intersection, there are few businesses and even fewer pedestrians that might find themselves subjected to whatever smoke or vapor might waft about from the lounge.
Weiner is prepared to stand up for his vision; if the fight proves to be futile, Weiner said he would like to “see some change.”
Weiner’s lounge would not be the first outdoor consumption area in the state.
Sol Cannabis, the first dispensary in New Mexico to offer an on-site consumption area, quickly ran into problems in April 2022 as customers were consuming cannabis outside as well as inside at its Las Cruces location. Debate quickly followed, and although the dispensary came under fire, the city began considering an amendment to the legislature to allow outdoor consumption areas. There's been no change as of yet, however.
The Greenery Room in Alto recently unveiled an outdoor consumption lounge on Wednesday (May 17). However, this specific dispensary is located in an unincorporated community, and district manager for The Greenery Room, Max Wapner, called the licensing process a “breeze.”
However, The Greenery Room had its start in Ruidoso, a town in Lincoln County similar in size to Taos and similarly dependent on its tourist economy. When this dispensary opened on April 1, 2022, the day recreational cannabis was legalized in New Mexico, their consumption lounge was still in the works. It wasn’t until August of that year that the lounge opened. Since then, Wapner has seen a vast difference in how the dispensary is run.
“We saw a lot of interest with the lounge in terms of the accessibility,” Wapner said. “It was great for people who were coming from out of the city because it’s illegal to smoke anywhere but private residences, so this opened up an opportunity for them to come away from their Airbnbs and hotels and smoke in a safe place.”
With the introduction of a consumption area, the dispensary saw a large increase in business, especially from locals, who now saw the area as a place to hang out as well as a place to purchase cannabis products. Customers remained in the store longer, which led to an increase in sales. As the dispensary is a local institution and sources all local hemp products, the more people spent money at the dispensary, the more money returned to the local economy.
Wapner said the option for on-site cannabis consumption led to partnerships between The Greenery Room in Ruidoso and local hotels, who then began sending people to the consumption area as a precaution before they consumed in or on hotel property. The consumption lounge even proved to be an alternative to a bar for those who didn’t partake in alcohol.
However, a third Greenery Room location in Carrizozo was denied a consumption area, according to Wapner, who added that whether or not a consumption area can be installed entirely depends on the municipality in question. Plenty of towns in New Mexico, such as Carrizozo, might not allow consumption areas because of safety concerns, he added, such as not wanting them around schools; some don’t want the smell to impede on their personal peace; others fear all the joint, bowl and bong sparking could increase fire danger.
Now established in the community for the better part of a year, the Ruidoso consumption lounge has seen, and even overcome, some of these concerns, Wapner said. A major one is a potential increase in DWIs. When asked, Wapner claimed there had been no significant increase in DWIs in Ruidoso since the implementation of a consumption lounge. Ruidoso police had not responded to inquiries by press time Wednesday (May 17) with the hard data to prove Wapner's assertion.
As for the fire hazard concern, Wapner said they put down fireproof wood chips at the outdoor lounge in Alto as a precaution.
Wapner’s staff in Ruidoso are trained to notice and prevent over-consumption of cannabis by customers so as to cut down on potential driving under the influence. As a legal precaution, consumers at the Ruidoso lounge are required to sign release forms. Additionally, these lounges are typically designed to convince consumers to stick around, not only because it means they’ll purchase more product, but also so they can metabolize the drug before getting behind the wheel.
A similar approach is being made in Taos.
Weiner’s vision incorporates awareness surrounding potential DWIs. Comparing the consumption lounge to a bar, he noted that the bar has a framework already in place, further adding that the bar's owner takes responsibility for consumers of alcohol, similar to the responsibility taken by the owner of a dispensary with a consumption area.
“I believe the percentage of people who operate a motor vehicle under the influence is not zero, right after they go to a dispensary,” Weiner said. “I think you could reduce that number and prevent potentially more automobile incidences by allowing people a safe, comfortable place where they can consume — just like if they went to a bar, and a bartender noticed someone was being over-served, they would cut them off. I think there should be a similar approach to cannabis.”
Weiner believes that there are customers who begin consuming immediately after leaving a dispensary with their purchase and entering their automobile, something that might decrease if a consumption area were made available to customers.
Bighorn Weed is a dispensary that also offers a delivery service for cannabis products.
“My approach to delivery was [that] this is gonna take people off the roads who would otherwise be consuming after they go to a dispensary,” Weiner said. “I think the same is true for consumption [areas]. It puts more time between when they consume cannabis and when they potentially operate an automobile.”
Although many business owners are hoping to create consumption areas cognizant of high drivers, the New Mexico Department of Health specifies in their consumption-area regulations that consumers must exit the “premises with a designated driver or utilize other lawful means of transportation.”
Although no consumption areas exist in Taos just yet, Bighorn Weed Co. is not alone in wanting to host one. Taos 420 Cannabis and Coffee, a dispensary that opened on May 5, has hopes to build an indoor consumption lounge, but the plans are still in the nascent phases.
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