After a few modifications, the Valencia County Commission unanimously approved recreational and medical cannabis regulations for the county.
During the public hearing for the ordinance, the commission heard from Tristan Kumar, a recent county landowner and hopeful cannabis grower.
Kumar said there is a younger generation of farmers who are learning to grow cannabis, pointing out that unlike places in the city of Albuquerque, Valencia County is historically agricultural and has the potential to be a popular place to grow cannabis.
“New Mexico could be a cannabis haven due to its latitude. We could have the best organic cannabis in America,” Kumar said.
He compared the production and development of cannabis to a winery or brewery, in that it can be grown and processed locally
“We can grow and compete with California. This is a very agricultural state,” he said.
Kumar told the commissioners the cannabis industry could draw tourism to many new parts of the state, including Valencia County.
Commissioner Jhonathan Aragon asked what kind of tourism Kumar envisioned.
“Connoisseurs, like when you go to Napa Valley for the wines,” Kumar said. “There are different flavors and turpines you can extract and flavors you can add. It’s like at a winery or craft cider — it’s a craft and that’s what I want to bring.”
He also urged the commission to amend the ordinance to allow cannabis oil extraction in other zones than just Industrial 2. Concerns have been raised about heated butane or alcohol solution extraction methods due to explosions and fires.
Kumar said other methods, such as water, heat and frozen extraction are safe and won’t combust. He asked the commission to allow those types of extraction in other zones, such as agricultural, agreeing the more dangerous methods should be kept away from residential areas.
The initial draft of the ordinance required cannabis operations be 300 feet from an assortment of types of areas, including residential. Kumar said having a laundry list of places cannabis establishments couldn’t be near was too restrictive.
County attorney Dave Pato agreed, recommending the ordinance limit cannabis establishments, consumption areas or courier operations be at least 300 feet from a school or day care center, church or religious assembly.
“The 300 feet from churches and schools is like alcohol,” Pato said. “It’s up to the commission to let retail in (Rural Residential 1 and Rural Residential 2) zoning. Those allow for uses like a day care but it doesn’t allow for the sale of pottery, for example.”
Pato clarified the ordinance allows individuals to use cannabis in their private spaces in apartments or condos, but not in public spaces, such as lobbies or elevators.
In regards to classifying different types of extraction for various zones, Pato said after speaking to Community Services Director Nancy Gonzales, the county doesn’t have an adequate number of code enforcement officers to monitor and enforce a large number of extraction rules, and recommended sticking with only allowing it in I-2 zones.
Commissioner Troy Richardson asked if existing medical marijuana businesses would be subject to the distance requirements. Pato said they would not.
Aragon said recreational cannabis is coming whether anyone likes it or not.
“This is something we need to get a really good plan and go ahead with,” he said. “This is going to be a living document due to all the different aspects of the situation.
“New things are going to present themselves when we address zone changes or someone wanting to sell. I think we need to keep (the ordinance) where it’s at for now. We just want to do this the proper way. We’re not trying to kill this industry.”
Aragon made the motion to approve the ordinance with the changes recommended by Pato, and Commissioner Joseph Bizzell made the second.
Valencia County Cannabis Ordinance
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.