Santa Fe City Council passes cannabis zoning ordinance

The City Council late Wednesday passed Santa Fe’s cannabis zoning ordinance after about six months of city staff grinding through the details.

The unanimous vote makes Santa Fe the last of New Mexico’s five largest cities by population to set up a regulatory framework for the new recreational cannabis industry, following Albuquerque, Roswell, Rio Rancho and Las Cruces.

Santa Fe will require 300 feet between cannabis businesses and schools, 400 feet between individual businesses and, in city officials’ attempt at equity, allow microbusinesses—producers with 200 mature plants or fewer—in more zones than larger producers.

The ordinance also mandates 300 feet between cannabis businesses and churches, although there was discussion at the council meeting about waivers similar to those that liquor stores can apply for to work around the spacing requirement.

Passage of the ordinance clears the path for prospective producers in Santa Fe to obtain state licensure. The state Regulation and Licensing Department’s Cannabis Control Division began accepting applications on Aug. 25.

When the Legislature passed the state’s recreational cannabis act on March 31, the city put together a Planning Commission subcommittee that spent several months looking at regulations in other states and evaluating what might work best for Santa Fe, says Noah Berke, planning manager at the city Land Use Department.

The city held two public hearings in August after drafting zoning recommendations. Berke says despite outreach efforts including posting on Nextdoor and advertising in the Santa Fe New Mexican, just two people spoke up.

“We tried to build momentum up to it so that people would participate and we could get a lot of feedback, but we didn’t get as much as we had hoped for,” Berke says. “I could speculate that the word didn’t get out in enough places, but I could also speculate that people may have just not wanted to participate. Maybe there just wasn’t as much of an interest in it.”

At the public hearings, one person mentioned a desire for a greater density requirement between retailers, Berke says, although Santa Fe’s rule is less restrictive than some other cities in the state.

Density requirements, or “buffer zones,” have been a point of contention in cities including Albuquerque and Las Cruces, the most recent larger city to establish rules for the burgeoning industry.

“Buffers have been a bit of a hot topic,” says Katherine Harrison-Rogers, senior planner with Las Cruces’ Community Development Department.

Harrison-Rogers says staff started with a recommendation of 1,000 feet between retailers, which the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce and community members pushed back against, saying that distance was too restrictive. In response, staff advised the City Council to reduce the distance and the Council ultimately landed on 300 feet.

Similarly, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s administration proposed 1,000 feet between retailers. The City Council rejected the proposal in June, instead opting for a 600-foot requirement.

On top of density requirements, Berke says Santa Fe’s rules governing which zoning districts businesses are allowed to operate in aren’t as cumbersome as in some cities.

For example, Roswell established two zones for cannabis businesses that “float” in the city’s so-called community commercial and heavy industrial zones and are activated on an individual basis upon the City Council’s approval of applications.

Santa Fe County, meanwhile, passed its zoning ordinance on July 30.

It allows the county’s community district overlays—of which there are 13, including La Cienega, Pojoaque and Chimayó—to craft their own regulations, using a “consensus process” directed by county planning staff, according to county spokeswoman Carmelina Hart.

Amendments to the overlays require community meetings, two public hearings and adoption by the County Commission.

Tesuque, San Marcos and the village of La Bajada are in the community planning process, which could last four to six months, Hart writes in an email to SFR.

As of Sept. 20, there were 59 producer license applications in progress and another three completed from Santa Fe County in the state’s online system, according to regulation and licensing spokeswoman Heather Brewer.

A producer checklist on the Cannabis Control Division’s website lists nine documents prospective producers must provide, including a social and economic equity plan and zoning approval.

Prior to Wednesday’s passage of the ordinance in Santa Fe, prospective producers would’ve needed zoning approval under rules established for the medical cannabis program. The city received several inquiries about zoning letters and “encouraged” those inquiring to wait until the ordinance passed, according to Berke, the city planning manager.

The checklist also notes that producers must certify that they will, for example, undergo a background check and comply with quality assurance requirements.

After receiving a complete application, the division has 90 days to issue or deny a license.

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