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Corrales City Council kills pot ban, OKs compromise plan

Joel Carty speaks during discussion of an ordinance banning pot in the Village of Corrales during public comment at a council meeting on Tuesday. (Matthew Reisen/Albuquerque Journal)

A proposed all-out ban on pot farming in Corrales went up in flames this week, but a compromise that would limit cultivation to the village’s commercial zone rose from the ashes.

Nearly 100 people packed the Village Council chambers Tuesday night, in a meeting that ran almost three hours, to witness the ban ordinance fail – this after councilors and more than a dozen residents put in their two cents on the proposed law, marijuana itself and the identity of the village.

Corrales Councilor George Wright defends the ordinance he sponsored at a village council meeting on Tuesday. (Matthew Reisen/Albuquerque Journal)

“I want residents to have a reasonable expectation that, regardless of zoning, a lot close to them will not be host to one more grow lab,” said Councilor George Wright, who sponsored the measure seeking the ban.

The proposed ordinance sought to prohibit growing, processing, distributing and selling cannabis for any purpose in the village, according to an explanatory memo to the village council. It wouldn’t have affected people with medical marijuana cards and a state-issued personal production license or existing medical marijuana farms in the village. The bill was posted last month when an medical marijuana facility moved into a residential neighborhood, causing an outcry from some neighbors.

“We’re not talking about a specific business or specific site or specific facility or specific people,” said Mayor Scott Kominiak, who asked those speaking to limit their comments to broad public zoning policy.

While some residents voiced concerns about cannabis farming in the village – such as citing threat of soaring crime rates and full-on legalization, calling medical marijuana the “camel’s nose under the tent” toward legalization – others spoke against the ban. They touted cannabis as an alternative to opiates that could potentially bring revenue to Corrales, while reminding the villagers that Corrales was “where all the hippies fled to in the ’70s.”

Steven Butterman, an employee of a medical cannabis facility Southwest Organic Producers, based in Corrales for nearly a decade, said there had been no issues or complaints about their facility concerning light, noise and smell – citing many concerns brought up at the last council meeting.

“There are good practices that we can use to mitigate these things,” he said. “I would urge you to take this opportunity to form smart regulations – rather than banning it out of fear.”

Wayne Bradley, a Corrales resident, said he is “unpleased” with anyone who wants to grow marijuana in the village, emphasizing he has seen lives destroyed by the plant and condemned its use, whether medical or recreational.

“I understand, a lot of times, the village, they like things that bring money in,” Bradley said. “You know, my dad taught me about something called ‘blood money’ and that’s what I consider this.”

When it came time for the councilors to debate, Wright emphasized “time is of the essence” in putting a complete ban into village law before further medical marijuana farms and possible legalization come to the village.

“You can’t unscramble eggs,” he said. “We must protect our constituents while we have the opportunity.”

Councilor Jim Fahey called it a “shame” to hear so much misinformation from residents, noting that marijuana has been grown in the village for nine years.

“That’s how unintrusive it is and how low impact it is on the environment,” he said.

With most councilors opposed to Wright’s ordinance, the proposed ban went to a vote and was defeated 4-1 – with only Wright voting for it.

The debate then shifted to an alternative proposed ordinance, sponsored by Councilors Ennio Garcia-Miera and Phil Gasteyer, that would restrict cannabis farming to the “c-neighborhood,” or commercial zone, in Corrales.

Garcia-Miera said the idea is to support medical marijuana, while having it conform to local ordinances.

“All you’ll be doing by rezoning it to (commercial) will be swapping out which residents have to put up with the nuisance,” Wright said.

Councilor Pat Clauser said banning it altogether was a mistake and a zoning restriction makes more sense, as long as the restrictions were monitored closely.

“The commercial zone does have margins that are going to be near residences and I think that would have to be really controlled,” she said, even floating the notion of a dispensary in Corrales, with the village gaining revenue through gross receipts tax on such a business.

“This is the opportunity we’re talking about – we can look at the lighting issues, we can look at the ventilations issues – those are things that we can deal with,” Garcia-Miera said.

He welcomed any amendments and suggestions for the next meeting, when the council will discuss the bill again.

Steve Gutierrez, who launched the petition that spawned the initial ordinance, submitted an additional 165 signatures on a new petition to limit operations of commercial grow operations out of residential and commercial areas.

“As we’ve seen, this is quite an explosive industry” Gutierrez said in support of the restrictive ordinance but encouraging the council to move forward as quickly as possible.

Gutierrez said restrictive zoning increases oversight and visibility into the operation while providing greater public input.

The vote to post the secondary ordinance passed 4-2, with only Councilors Fahey and Wright opposed.

“The village of Corrales is an agricultural community,” Fahey said. “You put a seed in the ground, it grows, it becomes a plant. Regardless of what list cannabis is on, it’s a plant.”

The planned medical cannabis facility that started the whole debate, The Verdes Foundation, commended the Village Council for “acting responsibly” in voting down the all-out ban.

“The Verdes Foundation is dedicated to being a good neighbor in the Village of Corrales,” it said. “We are hopeful that the Council will work with us and other local producers to identify responsible standards for cannabis producers to ensure neighbors are not negatively impacted.”