BELEN — One local municipality is getting its ducks in a row to prepare for future adult recreational cannabis establishment requests.

The Belen City Council and members of the Belen Planning and Zoning Commission attended a workshop Monday to discuss and ask questions about a draft ordinance to regulate the use, sale and growing of adult recreational cannabis within the city limits.

The council will consider the ordinance after a public hearing at 6 p.m., Monday, July 19, at Belen City Hall.

Individuals and businesses can begin applying for permits to sell and produce recreational cannabis from local governments at the end of this month.

illustration of bag with cannabis products

Stock image

Michelle Barreras, the city’s development services assistant, along with City Clerk Dorothy Flores, have spent the last several weeks attending online trainings and meetings with the state’s regulation and licensing division to get a handle on exactly what the city can regulate under the new state cannabis law.

Under the Cannabis Regulation Act, which allows people aged 21 and older to use and possess cannabis, most of the authority over this new enterprise rests with the state.

Barreras said local governments, such as the Belen City Council, can adopt “time, place and manner” rules that include regulations on the density of recreational cannabis businesses and their operating times.

“We can’t say we don’t allow them at all, but we can say how many. The city can also, for instance, decide if consumption areas will be inside only,” Barreras said.

Smoking recreational marijuana in public is still illegal, but if a retail location has a consumption area, they have to comply with state rules about ventilation and local laws on whether smoking and consumption of edibles is allowed indoors or outdoors.

While the state won’t begin issuing recreational licenses until Sept. 1, Barreras said businesses will be allowed to begin setting up and obtaining permits at the local level by the end of this month.

“They still have to set up where their business will be, get a zoning verification letter, show proof of their water source if they are cultivating, before they apply for a license from the state,” she said.

Barreras said if a recreational cannabis location is established without the city having a regulatory ordinance in place, it would be grandfathered in and not subject to regulations once approved.

For example, the state law allows a local government to require cannabis consumption areas be up to 300 feet away from schools and day care centers. Under current city ordinances, there is no such restriction.

Retailers are required to be 600 feet apart and 300 feet from residential areas, as per state law, and locations that have liquor licenses cannot sell recreational cannabis, and the sale of tobacco cannot be combined with cannabis.

Another area the city can regulate is the extraction of cannabis oils. While individuals are allowed to grow cannabis for their personal use at their homes, the state allows local governments to restrict the oil extraction process to certain types of zones or operations.

The oils are extracted using either butane or alcohol and the solution is then heated, which can lead to explosions and fires. A security video that was part of a KRQE news broadcast shown during the workshop recorded an explosion during an extraction process at an Albuquerque cannabis manufacturer in 2016. Two men are shown in the video, their heads and torsos in flames.

“After doing a lot of research, we strongly recommend the council limit extraction operations to manufacturing and keep it out of residential and commercial operations,” Barreras said.

There are a slew of inspections local fire personnel and code enforcement officers have to perform on recreational cannabis sellers, growers and testing locations, including ventilation requirements, lighting, security systems, signs and wastewater disposal.

“There are a lot of regulations we don’t have a say in but we can regulate time, manner and place, as well as the extraction,” Barreras said.

DRAFT City of Belen cannabis ordinance

DRAFT Belen Cannabis Ordinance

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.