BELEN — As the number of retail cannabis stores in the Hub City continues to grow, the city has put a temporary halt to new applications and zoning certificates.

During the city council meeting on Nov. 7, Belen Mayor Robert Noblin said the city is looking into capping the number of cannabis business licenses depending on the city’s population.

“When we passed the original cannabis ordinance, there were some things that were overlooked,” Noblin said. “Actually, we passed it as a blanket ordinance with the understanding that it’s a living document and these things would be revisited …”

The mayor said one of the items he believes needs to be revisited is density — meaning capping the number of cannabis retail stores to the amount of people living in Belen.

“Tonight, we’re simply considering a resolution,” the mayor said. “We’re not changing the ordinance. There will be a public hearing at some point in the future.”

The resolution, which was approved 3-1 by the city council with Councilor Danny Bernal Jr. voting against it, directs staff from accepting new applications for cannabis business licenses until the city council makes a decision regarding density.

“Do we have enough dispensaries? Do we want more dispensaries? At the end of the day, with supply and demand, we certainly don’t want a situation — or I don’t  — where we fill a lot of vacancies and then a year from now have 80 percent vacant again.”

Noblin said in Hudson, N.J., with a population of 700,000, has a total of two dispensaries. He said in a maximum of 10 dispensaries are allowed in Grand Junction, Colo., that has a population of 67,000 people.

“At some point, it becomes an issue of what’s good for these businesses moving forward and will they remain viable,” Noblin said.

Belen City Clerk Dorothy Flores reported there are currently three licensed cannabis businesses in operation in the city, with one that has a manufacturing license but isn’t in the correct zone to utilize it.

Flores said four additional applications are currently in process, along with another manufacturing license. In total, there are seven cannabis retail licenses in the city.

“I had three calls today from out-of-state inquiring about property sites,” Flores said. “I did advise them about the pending resolution.”

Bernal said he understood the resolution doesn’t change the city’s law, but disagrees the government has influence on the market.

“We are a capitalistic society, and if someone wants to open up a business, they should have every right to open up that business,” Bernal said. “If it fails, it fails; and if it succeeds and thrives, it succeeds and thrives.”

The councilor said it shouldn’t be up to the government to tell the business owners what they can and cannot do.

“I just want to be careful of getting too involved in the market,” he added.

Councilor Frank Ortega said he understands Bernal’s concerns, but said the mayor is looking at the best interests of the city, and making sure “we have all our ducks in a row.”

Councilor Steve Holdman agreed with Ortega, saying it makes sense to take a step back and look at density issues.

“I understand we don’t want to interfere with business, but at some point we have to look at these things,” Holdman said.

The resolution was approved 3-1, with Councilors Ortega, Holdman and Yvette Padilla voted in favor, with Bernal voting against it.

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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.