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The Albuquerque City Council next month will consider a proposal that cannabis industry advocates fear would confine dispensaries to industrial parks and large commercial areas.
The proposed zoning restrictions would bar cannabis businesses from “main street” areas and within 300 feet of areas zoned for residential or mixed use.
Councilor Pat Davis says that would effectively bar dispensaries from such areas as Nob Hill, Downtown and Barelas. Advocates for the cannabis industry say the proposal also applies restrictions on dispensaries that now apply to strip clubs and adult bookstores.
But Mayor Tim Keller’s administration said late Monday that the proposal is meant to preserve the historic Route 66 and Old Town and would not bar those businesses from such areas as Nob Hill.
Babaak Parcham, deputy director of communications for the mayor’s office, said that the fear that dispensaries would be confined to industrial parks and large commercial areas is unfounded.
He also disputed the contention that the proposal lumps cannabis dispensaries with adult entertainment businesses.
“The proposal approaches cannabis businesses as liquor stores or tobacco smoke shops are today and were based on best practices developed in other cities around the country,” Parcham said.
A dispensary owner said he was disappointed by the tone of the proposal.
“It was a little disheartening that we were basically being lumped into the same kind of restrictions as a strip club,” said Darren White, co-founder of PurLife, which owns nine New Mexico dispensaries, including three in Albuquerque.
White was responding to a proposed amendment that would prohibit dispensaries within 1,000 feet of adult entertainment or retail businesses.
“We have worked really hard to remove the stigma with cannabis,” he said.
Councilor Davis said his overall concern about the proposed amendments is that it “assumes that cannabis businesses are unwelcome and dangerous neighbors.”
The amendment to the Integrated Development Ordinance was introduced earlier this month at the Land Use, Planning and Zoning Subcommittee, which did not act on the proposal, Davis said. City councilors will consider the proposal on June 7.
Keller said through a spokesperson Monday that his office is working with Jones “to begin a conversation on the implementation” of the state’s new recreational cannabis law.
“With only one chance each year to adjust the IDO (Integrated Development Ordinance), we’re glad that Councilor (Trudy) Jones is addressing key issues for neighborhoods across our city,” Keller spokeswoman Lorena Sanchez said in a statement.
But Jones made clear that she is merely carrying the proposal on behalf of the mayor, who can’t sponsor legislation considered by the City Council.
“It is not my legislation,” Jones said of the proposal. “I’m doing it by request of the mayor.”
The New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, a cannabis industry trade group, wrote a letter addressed to Keller dated Thursday warning that the proposed zoning restrictions would have “unintended consequences” on businesses and customers.
“As written, the zoning amendments would preclude more than half of the current cannabis businesses – cultivators, manufacturers and retailers – in Albuquerque from participating in the adult use market,” the letter said.
The dispute comes at a pivotal time as the state gears up for a new recreational cannabis industry under a bill Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law in April.
Under the law, retail sales of cannabis products to adults will begin no later than April 2022.
The law legalizes possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis, or an equivalent amount of cannabis extract. The governor also signed a companion bill intended to expunge the public records of thousands of New Mexicans convicted of cannabis-related possession charges.
Davis said he and industry leaders plan to meet with Keller on Wednesday to discuss the proposed amendment.
Cannabis industry leaders predict the new recreational use law will create thousands of new jobs as producers expand production to meet the expected demand from new buyers.
Davis said the proposed zoning changes create uncertainty about where growers and dispensaries will be allowed to operate, which could delay the rollout of the new recreational cannabis industry.
“Why are we treating cannabis businesses differently than any other adult-use business, like a brewery?” Davis asked.