LOS LUNAS — The last municipality in Valencia County to do so, Los Lunas, approved an amendment to their zoning ordinance to establish regulations for recreational cannabis earlier this month.
The delay came after the Los Lunas Village Council held several meetings and extensively discussed how they should regulate recreational use of the newly-legal drug. After the first draft of the ordinance, the village attorney recommended “substantial” revisions in order to comply with the state law.
As of late June, recreational cannabis use is legal in New Mexico for individuals 21 years old and older, leaving municipalities to establish ordinances and regulations determining time, place and manner for commercial cannabis retailers and producers.
In the ordinance approved on Nov. 4, the village council determined in which zones cannabis establishments could be, and which zones allowed for home grow.
Like other municipalities, Los Lunas also prohibits any commercial cannabis establishment from being built within 300 feet of any day care center or school — both of which are directly mentioned in the state statute as permissible to create buffers around.
Any commercial cannabis facility, including retail, cultivation or otherwise, in the village can only operate between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Home grow-operations are not subject to the limited hours because they are not allowed to sell cannabis or cannabis products.
A large matter of discussion was density and how the village would be allowed to regulate the number of commercial cannabis establishments within village limits. In the approved ordinance, the village decided to allow for one commercial cannabis establishment for every 2,000 residents — allowing for about nine establishments in the village.
“We had a lot of back-and-forth discussion on how we each interpret density,” Los Lunas Community Development Director Erin Callahan said during the Nov. 4 public hearing about her conversations with village attorney Larry Guggino.
“Does density mean the total amount that is allowed in the whole area, or does it mean, kind of like another buffer, as in every two square mile density?”
The village currently has four medical cannabis establishments, which only allow for five more commercial facilities to be built in Los Lunas.
In the first iteration of the ordinance brought to council in October, no cannabis establishment was allowed within 300 feet of any school, day care center, church, public parks, village facilities and other cannabis establishments. The first version of the local law would have regulated density by allowing a single cannabis establishment for every two square miles.
“Alex Ochoa, our community planner, put together a mapping analysis to show what would happen when we apply all of those regulations,” Callahan said. “What he had come up with was, when we place all of these buffers then we would actually be in a position that there are so many items buffered that it prohibits nearly the entire village from having a cannabis establishment.
“That does create its own set of legal problems, in which our legal council, Larry Guggino noted, that it would be probably an excessive regulation to provide an ordinance that is that restrictive.”
This village also looked at prohibiting any cannabis consumption areas, which would be allowed in enclosed spaces attached to retail cannabis facility, according to state statute, but was legally advised against it.
“The state statute notes that we may allow consumption in the village. It does not specifically state that we can prohibit them, and (Guggino) had a concern that, in fact, because it doesn’t say we can prohibit them, it may be interpreted that we cannot prohibit them,” Callahan said. “It would be better to not take that path because it would open us up to a potential challenge along the road.”