Lighting Up, Limited

Where in Santa Fe can you smoke weed? For now, you’re safest staying at home

The Santa Fe City Council voted in 2017 to ban smoking on the Plaza, including cigarettes, pipes “or any other device that produces smoke.” (Bella Davis)

Starting in April, adults 21 and over can walk into dispensaries across New Mexico and purchase cannabis. Simple enough.

But figuring out where in Santa Fe it’s permissible to consume those purchases is far from simple, particularly for those looking to smoke. It boils down to this: Private residences are the only real option, unless you want to risk fines.

First off, the Cannabis Regulation Act prohibits smoking cannabis in public, so forget about lighting up on the sidewalk, which comes with a $50 civil penalty. And even if it weren’t for the prohibition, city officials banned smoking at one of Santa Fe’s most iconic locations, the Plaza, nearly five years ago.

Smoking in a parked car likely isn’t a good bet, either.

Santa Fe police Capt. Matthew Champlin tells SFR enforcement “would be based on the facts of that particular case” when asked about the department’s procedure for such a scenario.

“Let’s say it was Walmart and somebody was sitting inside of their car,” Champlin says. “The car isn’t on, maybe they’re a passenger and they’re smoking marijuana. I believe that’s a civil citation for smoking in public…If the car was running and that individual was in the driver’s seat, that might change it dramatically because they’re in control of the car, which could then turn into a dangerous situation because they’re driving.”

Other states that have legalized cannabis spell out whether use in vehicles is restricted. In Colorado, for example, neither drivers nor passengers are allowed to use cannabis in a vehicle, regardless of whether it’s parked. New Mexico’s legalization scheme doesn’t include any such provision.

What’s also murky is that while overall arrests have significantly declined in states that have legalized recreational cannabis, racial disparities in remaining enforcement persist, as detailed in a 2020 report from the American Civil Liberties Union. New Mexico isn’t likely to be an outlier.

Offering an option other than private residences, state law allows for smoking in designated consumption areas. Businesses must secure state licensure for such areas before they can serve cannabis products to customers. (No consumption areas have been licensed anywhere in the state, Cannabis Control Division spokeswoman Heather Brewer tells SFR.)

The City of Santa Fe doesn’t have an ordinance on the books permitting consumption areas, and it seems that won’t change anytime soon.

Land Use Director Jason Kluck says if a city councilor came to the department tomorrow and expressed interest in introducing legislation dealing with the issue, it would likely take staff six months to work through all the details.

“There’s a public health component along with the economic benefit,” Kluck tells SFR. “If legislation does move forward, I think it’ll have to take into consideration both of those aspects.”

Kluck points out that municipalities aren’t obligated to allow consumption areas, though local governments would have to enact a rule prohibiting such areas, Brewer says.

Santa Fe County passed rules for consumption areas last July. Such areas that are open to non-patients are treated the same as bars. Smoking isn’t allowed outdoors, and can only be done in areas that occupy standalone buildings from which smoke doesn’t infiltrate other indoor places. As of presstime, the county hadn’t received any applications.

The absence of consumption areas leaves tourists especially restricted.

Most hotels in town won’t make special accommodations for cannabis, says Jeff Mahan, executive director of the Santa Fe Lodgers Association.

“From what I can tell, nobody really has any plans to do anything,” Mahan says, adding that most rooms are already non-smoking. “I think everybody’s just kind of sitting back, seeing what happens. We do have friends to the north [in Colorado] and they kind of said it’s not too big of an issue for them. You know, they don’t know if somebody gets in their car in the parking lot and puffs.”

Airbnb doesn’t seem to be a better option for interested tourists.

A recent search of listings available in April shows only one property in the city that allows smoking, but that was an error, the host writes to SFR. In fact, smoking any substance isn’t allowed at that property.

Asked if the scarcity of smoking destinations could have a negative impact on tourism, Randy Randall, head of the city’s tourism division, says he doesn’t think so, mostly because arts, culture and other offerings are what bring people to Santa Fe.

“Texas doesn’t have cannabis yet, so just like they come in for gaming, they’ll come in for cannabis, the same way New Mexico went to Colorado,” Randall tells SFR. “My thinking at this stage is that it was important for New Mexico to be in that game, but I don’t think it’s going to be a major draw for Santa Fe.”

Read more of the Cannabis Guide:

Ready or Not: Adult cannabis sales kick off in New Mexico with hiccups and optimism

Lighting Up, Limited: Where in Santa Fe can you smoke weed? For now, you’re safest staying at home

Dispensary Dos and Don’ts: What to expect when you shop for cannabis for the first time, with High Desert Relief budtender Irie Duran

A Gray Area: Measuring cannabis impairment of drivers remains an elusive target for New Mexico and nationally

Expunge Me: New Mexico courts, public safety department gearing up to remove thousands of cannabis charging records from public view

In the Lab: Flaws, uncertainty in New Mexico’s testing for THC potency and other measurements show bumps on the road to adult-use cannabis rollout

New Bud on the Block: Legacy cannabis producers and recently-licensed operators set up shop in Santa Fe

Dispensary Directory: Over 21 in Santa Fe? Grab your place in line for cannabis

CBD Directory: If you’re interested in the non-psychoactive benefits of cannabinoids, you have plenty of local options

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