Now that adult recreational cannabis is legal in the state of New Mexico, local lawmakers are establishing ordinances that align with the law and allow for the community to possess, grow, manufacture, sell and consume cannabis products.
At the Taos County Commissioners Board meeting on Tuesday (July 20), Contract County Attorney Randy Autio presented a rough draft of proposed ordinances, and set a deadline of Aug. 17 for the passage of an amendment to the Taos County Land Use Regulations.
"As we've already told you, we may have to amend this between now and Aug. 17. We also may have to amend this after the state finishes regulating on this," said Autio.
The Cannabis Regulation Act (CRA), signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in April after a special legislative session, includes deadlines for issuing licenses to manufacturers, producers and retailers.
The first deadline, for manufacturing licenses, is Sept. 1. Production of recreational cannabis is scheduled to begin in the fall. Retail sales to the general public will begin no later than April 1, 2022.
The CRA also established a Cannabis Control Division (CCD) within the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department to help local jurisdictions understand the law, and provide guidance in crafting new ordinances. The CCD talked to other states (Colorado, Washington and New York) that have already gone through the process.
"We're taking a look at other state statutes and how they've been interpreted -- to look for guidance on kind of that push and pull between local control and state statute and state authority," said Autio.
The CRA allows local jurisdictions to set reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on cannabis operations, including limits on license density (such as a minimum distance between cannabis retail stores).
Other allowable restrictions include hours of operation for retailers and cannabis consumption areas (which are analogous to bars, but serve cannabis instead of liquor). Local jurisdictions can also require minimum distances from schools and daycare centers.
"This draft currently does not have distances from churches," said Autio. "It is something that we are doing further research on. And we will provide that opinion to you. So that may be one of the amendments that we choose to include before Aug. 18."
"It can't be, in my opinion, exclusively churches," said AnJanette Brush, Taos County Commissioner District 4. "We have a very rich spiritual community here. We have an ashram. We have temples. We can't necessarily just say churches -- that would have to be places of worship."
Other restrictions being discussed are cannabis sales on Sundays and Christmas day.
The CRA also prevents local jurisdictions from disallowing the operation of cannabis businesses, including prevention of transporting cannabis products on public roads. Local jurisdictions cannot completely prohibit the operation of a licensee, or prevent a cannabis business from identifying as such.
The law allows for adult (21 years old or older) usage, in private, or in a cannabis consumption area, and possession of up to two ounces. It also allows, as of July 1, for adults to home grow cannabis plants for private consumption. Adults are allowed to grow six plants per person in a household, with a maximum of 12 plants.
"In my district, in El Rito, there are folks that have talked about trying to grow and turn their property into retail. Are we going 50 feet off our county roadways, 100 feet off our county roadways, that could potentially be a retail store -- so it's not something that's in a residential area," asked Mark Gallegos, Taos County Commissioner District 2.
"It's a good issue. I'll talk to planning about how we can better address that and make sure you have that information in August, to see how this is going to be applied and how it will affect rural areas like that," said Autio.
"We did not focus on that in this draft. For growers, there really is very little prohibition. Agriculture is considered to be agriculture under the Act," he continued. "So the main thing we did is tried to place growers, because what they're going to have to do is place them in hot houses or buildings. They produce about four crops per year, so it's an intense agribusiness, versus a traditional field of frijoles or something."
The Taos County Commission will meet again to discuss local ordinances for the cannabis industry on Aug. 17 at 9 a.m. prior to its final adoption of new rules. Members of the community are welcome to view the meeting at taoscounty.org, and address the commission by calling 575-737-6310.
This report is one in a series related to the Cannabis Regulation Act.