RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Towering walls, armed security, a pungent smell, and young “zoned out” kids.
Those were some of the concerns raised as more than 50 Corrales citizens packed the village council meeting Tuesday night to take sides on whether to allow the commercial growth of marijuana in the village going forward.
At issue is a proposed ordinance that would ban the cultivation, processing and sale of “cannabis and cannabis-derived products” within the village – a measure spurred by a planned medical marijuana farm that would be adjacent to residential areas.
If passed, the ordinance would not affect people with medical marijuana cards and a “personal production” license from the state or currently existing medical marijuana farms within Corrales, according to a explanatory memo to the council.
Councilor George Wright, the sponsor of the measure, cited concerns about a planned medical marijuana farm on the north end of Corrales, and the possible future effects of legalization on the village as a whole.
“The 8,500 or so residents of Corrales are directly in the path of a cannabis tsunami that began with authorization of recreational use in Colorado and has advanced to western Oregon, California, Alaska and most recently Nevada,” Wright said during Tuesday’s meeting.
The proposed farm is awaiting building permits and is not yet under construction.
Steve Gutierrez, a resident who rents properties next to the proposed farm at 7648 Corrales Road, submitted a petition with 135 signatures against its construction.
Gutierrez said the state of New Mexico has put control on marijuana operations within local jurisdictions such as Corrales.
“I think that’s important for us to take advantage of, to decide what the industry should look like in our village,” he said. “In the future, if it does become beneficial to the village to consider this type of thing, it’s probably easier to open up to this activity rather than trying to limit the activity when already there is a strong presence.”
The majority of citizens at the meeting, like Gutierrez, expressed worry that allowing commercial marijuana farming in Corrales could have negative effects if restrictions aren’t put in place now.
They said those negative effects ranged from changing the “face of Corrales,” with industrial fans and lights used in farming marijuana, to the village possibly becoming more attractive to commercial growers.
But other residents, including Dirk Gibson, spoke against the ordinance to murmurs of disapproval from the crowd.
“I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for medical cannabis,” said Gibson, a University of New Mexico professor and medical marijuana patient. “Medical pot is no joke. This is not ‘Cheech and Chong go to medical school’ and prescribe goodies for their friends.”
Gibson tried to allay the fears of his fellow Corraleños, emphasizing that medical marijuana has nothing to do with legalization and is a constrained service with established procedures and medical certification by multiple doctors.
After residents spoke, councilors went back and forth on the issue – debating on the very nature of legalization and ethics of a ban on medical marijuana.
The proposed ordinance “recognizes that agricultural activities are a permissive use on lands throughout most of the village” and would exclude cannabis from the definition of “agricultural activities.”
“I feel that the village is schizophrenic in this whole thing,” Councilor Jim Fahey said in opposition to the ordinance. “Here you are talking about preserving farmland and now we’re trying to restrict someone’s ability to grow a product.”
Fahey said marijuana, unlike opiates prescribed today, has few side effects and few effects on the environment while treating everything from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases to chronic pain.
The councilors argued for over a half hour – with citizens chiming in often – bringing Councilor David Dornburg to suggest a postponement of the ordinance vote to discuss possible alternatives, such as a zoning ordinance that would prevent such farms from existing near residential lands.
Councilor Ennio Garcia-Miera agreed with Dornburg, calling the ban “overkill.”
“I think we need to think this through,” he said.
Some heated exchanges between councilors followed – accusations of “fear mongering” and objections to objections – leading Mayor Scott Kominiak to bang his gravel multiple times to bring the meeting to order.
Councilor Wright worried that a postponement could jeopardize the ordinance being an option at all.
“I think time really is of the essence,” Wright said, adding that the only thing standing in the way of the proposed farm’s construction is a few building permits.
“I want to protect the folks in my district by getting things on the books right away,” he said.
The motion to postpone further discussion failed 4-2 and the subsequent vote to post the ordinance passed 4-2, with Kominiak reminding everyone that nothing is set in stone and amendments can be made when the ordinance is brought for a full vote at the next meeting on Aug. 8.
“I would urge everyone to sharpen up your pencils and get busy with your suggestions on what the final version ought to look like,” he said.