BELEN — With a 3-0 vote, the Belen City Council approved an ordinance last week regulating cannabis within the Hub City.

While the city’s attorney recommended the council postpone voting on the item until more information could be obtained, the councilors approved it anyway with some saying they wanted the ordinance on the books, and that it could be amended later if needed.

The new ordinance regulating cannabis, which can be viewed on the city’s website or at the end of this article establishes the time, place and manner cannabis can be sold within the city.

According to the ordinance, all cannabis retail stores shall obtain a permit, and are prohibited within 300 feet or any school or child day care facility. Retail establishments shall be 600 feet from other cannabis stores, and visits and deliveries are prohibited between the hours of 12 a.m. (midnight) and 8 a.m.

Cannabis cultivation facilities are allowed, but prohibited within 300 feet of any residential zone districts, school or child day care facility. These facilities must be conducted in fully-enclosed portions of a building unless a conditional use is approved.

During the discussion portion of the meeting, Councilor Robert Noblin pointed out the ordinance didn’t mention the number of dispensaries that were allowed in the city, saying it had been previously mentioned it would be one for every 1,500 people in the city — or five in total.

“We have no idea how this is going to benefit the city or state,” Noblin said of the tax revenue cannabis would bring. “We’ll only get a small percentage of the GRT. This ordinance is going to change, and the council can revisit it. Maybe it’s the best thing to happen but we don’t have a lot of answers.”

Councilor Danny Bernal Jr. said it would be his recommendation that the city don’t restrict by population, only by distance.

“I don’t think we should restrict how many,” Bernal said. “It’s an unnecessary restriction on business. If there were 10, some will fizzle out. Let’s not restrict business.”

Councilor Frank Ortega said he was concerned that the ordinance doesn’t restrict drive-thru sales.

“I don’t understand why we will allow a drive-thru for pot but not for alcohol,” Ortega said. “We don’t know who it’s going to impact their driving, and this is one of the reasonings we are going to have to pass this and bring it back.”

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, several people spoke in favor and against the ordinance.

Resident Elizabeth McKown told the council that if the city doesn’t move forward, it’s going to miss out on a lot of revenue from the sales of cannabis.

“This is a tax on the recreational user,” McKown said. “It will also be taking revenue out of the pockets of those dealing it. We need to tax them and make some money to build a better community. We will then have more things to offer and have different programs for our children. If we do not move forward, then we are losing out tremendously on revenue.”

Pastor Ray Jaramillo, of Calvary Chapel Rio Grande Valley, said he has a great concern for the availability of cannabis in the community.

“I can tell you from first hand experience that marijuana had a great impact on my life,” Jaramillo said. “I started smoking pot at 13 years old and it led to other drugs, and I think it is a gateway drug.”

Jaramillo said the drug takes away incentive and will impact our children for generations to come.

“We have a state that legalized it, and our nation is heading down that road,” the pastor said. “As a community, we don’t have to follow suit. We need to set a better example.”

When asked how he feels about cannabis and the ordinance, Belen Police Chief James Harris said now that it has become legal, his concern is to maintain safety and security in Belen.

“I’m going to be concerned about safety and security of these shops because there will be a large amount of marijuana and cash,” Harris said. “The marijuana trade has been one of the largest incomes for illegal cartel activity. These people don’t like to give up money or power.

“In my opinion, we need to take this slow and easy, find out what is going to work and what isn’t going to work,” the chief said. “Don’t just go all out and implement it all at one time.”

Councilors Ortega, Noblin and Ronnie Torres voted to approve the ordinance, while Bernal abstained from voting.

When asked by the News-Bulletin why he abstained from voting, Bernal said because he works for the federal government as a federal contractor doing background investigations, he abstained because cannabis is illegal according to federal laws.

City of Belen Cannabis Ordinance

City of Belen Cannabis Ordinance

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.