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Cannabis in Old Town put on hold for now

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Just four days after the Albuquerque City Council decided how it wanted to regulate recreational cannabis, it has added an asterisk to the rulebook – if only temporarily.

The council on Monday passed legislation to stop the industry from opening up in Old Town until next year.

Councilor Isaac Benton, who represents the area, said the moratorium will provide officials time to consider how best to introduce the market to a part of the city that already has special regulations regarding such things as signage and displays.

“I do think of all the – if you want to call them – sensitive areas of the city where we really want to really evaluate what cannabis sales would look like … that’s Old Town,” Benton said Monday.

He said it would not stop cannabis activity in the future, but “rather give us a year to slice and dice how it looks in Old Town.”

The legislation, which Benton sponsored, prohibits the city from accepting any building permits and land use or business registration applications for cannabis uses – including retail, cultivation or manufacturing – in the Old Town Historic Protection Overlay zone until July 1, 2022, or until the next annual Integrated Development Ordinance update takes effect, whichever is sooner.

The council just last week approved the 2020 IDO update, including rules for the newly legalized recreational cannabis industry.

It rejected proposals from Mayor Tim Keller’s administration that would have barred new cannabis shops from opening on Main Street areas – including parts of Central Avenue, Fourth Street and San Pedro – or from setting up shop within 1,000 feet of each other or adult entertainment businesses.

The mayor also pitched rules to restrict hours of operation and regulate signage, which the council opposed.

The council instead approved a 600-foot buffer between new cannabis shops, but would allow them to be closer as long as they obtain approval through a public process.

While the city council took a mostly hands-off approach to cannabis regulation, Benton said Old Town warrants special examination.

“As the city welcomes cannabis businesses into the city, it must also carefully consider possible impacts on Old Town to honor the community’s past efforts to preserve its historic character and to account for how its character contributes to the economic and cultural welfare of our city,” Benton’s bill states.

The council approved it on a 9-0 vote.

Should the council not agree to a specific set of Old Town rules by the end of the moratorium, the area would be subject to the rules that apply elsewhere in the city.

Also on Monday:

• The city council appointed Melissa Santistevan as Albuquerque’s new inspector general. Santistevan is owner of the Precision Accounting audit firm in Albuquerque and succeeds Kenneth Bramlett, who died in December after contracting COVID-19.

• The city council approved an agreement with Netflix Studios to sublease about 130 acres at Mesa del Sol.

The city leases the property from the New Mexico State Land Office, but Netflix will sublease it as part of its expansion project. The company will pay annual rent directly to the SLO, starting at $175,472 and climbing to $526,415 once operations begin on the property or five years into the agreement, whichever is sooner.


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