The Village of Angel Fire hosted a town hall on Monday (Sept. 13) to hammer out specifics in its new recreational cannabis ordinances. More than 40 attendees, along with village mayor Jo Mixon and Planning & Zoning Commission consultant Santos Martinez, discussed zoning, distances between dispensaries, proximity to houses of worship, hours of operation and more.
“Their legislation said that every village, every town, will have retail [cannabis] sales that are called dispensaries. You cannot opt out,” said Mixon. “A lot of people that I’ve talked to over the past couple of weeks – the biggest thing that I have to get through to them, which is strange at my age, because it’s been illegal all my life, is to say it’s legal,” she continued. “A lot of people just can’t get there. But it is.”
The Cannabis Regulation Act (CRA), signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in April 2021 after a special legislative session, established a Cannabis Control Division (CCD) within the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department to help local jurisdictions understand the law, and provide guidance for crafting new ordinances.
The CRA includes deadlines for issuing licenses for manufacturers, producers and retailers. Adult possession (21 years old and older) of up to 2 ounces, and six home-grown cannabis plants per adult became legal on July 1. Producers will be eligible for licensure beginning Jan. 1, 2022, and dispensaries will be eligible for licensure no later than April 1, 2022.
The CRA also mandates a 300-foot distance between dispensaries and a school or a daycare, but distances between dispensaries and houses of worship, along with building requirements and commercial zoning considerations would be left to local jurisdiction.
Martinez provided attendees with zoning maps and a draft version of the ordinance, and explained what other local communities are considering.
“Other municipalities and counties do have spacing requirements for these establishments. So for example, Eagle Nest is only going to allow two, and that’s it,” he said.
Martinez said that Red River, Taos County and Eagle Nest were planning to regulate days and hours of operation. “We have not proposed any regulations on hours and days of the week. We can’t find in your code where you regulate any other business on when they’re open and when they’re closed. So we don’t feel it’s inappropriate to try to start.”
The original Angel Fire proposal, approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, included 1,000-foot spacing between each dispensary.
“What’s the issue with density?” said Landon Dooley, owner of Enchanted Circle Campground. “If you go to Colorado to any of the dispensaries, a lot of them are stacked side by side, and it kind of congregates the people who are going to be looking for that product to one specific area.”
“So I’d say it might be better to let them be denser than so spread out, because you can contain and control it a little bit easier,” said Dooley.
Another meeting attendee said, “I think we shouldn’t try to consider restricting the amounts of dispensaries we’re going to have. The marketplace will dictate how many they want.”
A third attendee said, “I would really like to hear from law enforcement. They’re the ones that have to police this, and if they have any suggestions, I think we need to listen.”
“Are you sure?” Mixon joked.
“Law enforcement is really only going to deal with people that are in possession of too much, or the DUIs that come from people smoking marijuana and driving,” said Brad McCaslin, Village of Angel Fire Chief of Police.
A lot of the discussion revolved around commercial versus residential zones, and the distance requirements for dispensaries for each.
In Angel Fire, those lines tend to blur when people live above their business or build a house in a commercial zone. In those cases, a variance could be sought through the village council.
“I don’t want to be involved in picking who gets to put a business where,” said Councilor Matthew Billingsley. “If someone wants to come and apply for something, I don’t want to be one of four votes that might decide someone’s livelihood and future.”
“What I’m hearing some folks say is, they want a hurdle if it’s too close to residential,” said Martinez. “Maybe not a high hurdle, but just something that makes sure that it’s done right. Or we could just say, it doesn’t matter.”
One attendee suggested, rather than setting restrictions on distances between zones, restrictions could be set for hours of operation. “The whole town rolls up its carpet at nine anyway.”
“Hours set a scary precedent for me,” said another village resident. “I’ve got RVers that roll in at midnight. If we do this and say we’re going to limit hours, now people can come in possibly and tell me what hours my RVers can and can’t come in.”
“I’m just looking at other families that have kids that run around at night, and it’s like, okay, now we’ve got 10 cars coming down the streets, that these kids are out biking, and I just I have concerns about [that],” said another attendee.
At the end of the hour-and-a-half-long meeting in the Village Hall, a consensus was beginning to take shape, which included no buffer between a dispensary and a house of worship, and no buffer between dispensaries.
The consensus also included a 100-foot buffer between a dispensary and a residential district, subject to a variance if a business really wanted that location.
“I believe an ordinance can be drafted, based on the guideposts that have been shared tonight,” said Martinez, who will now draft a new version of the ordinance incorporating the public’s comments. The new version will be discussed at the next village council meeting on Sept. 28, and the public will get to weigh in again, before it goes to a final vote sometime in October.
The Taos County Commission is continuing to discuss cannabis ordinances, and have so far had two public hearings to gather input about zoning setbacks and other regulations. A final draft of the ordinance has yet to pass.