JAL – Times and social values have changed.
Lea County’s “small town, big heart” took first steps to embracing New Mexico’s marijuana mandate last week.
Jal city leaders hosted a public meeting Tuesday to discuss what needs to be done soon in light of the state’s Cannabis Regulation Act (CRA) that became effective June 29, with three upcoming deadlines.
While the act, passed by the state Legislature on March 31 in a special session called for that purpose by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, legalized recreational marijuana, the state regulations governing the industry are yet to be finalized.
Jal Mayor Stephen Aldridge explained to the News-Sun, “We always try to be proactive.”
Aldridge told about a dozen people in the city council chambers a committee already discussing the issue found 10 Jal ordinances needing to be changed in addition to writing a new ordinance.
Committee members included the mayor, City Clerk Molly Sanchez, City Manager Matt White, City Councilor Amelia Trevino and City Councilor Bekah Richard. Aldridge tried to enlarge the committee, seeking a diversification of perceptions, during the meeting but had no takers.
“In our ordinances, there’s ‘offenses against public morals’ that talks specifically about marijuana use,” Aldridge cited an example.
White interjected, “That ordinance is totally obsolete since they passed a law that allows it.”
Aldridge agreed, “We’ve got a ton of work to do to clean that up.”
Audience members addressed the committee’s list of potential issues within the law’s limitations including zoning, consumption areas, personal growing, water issues and security.
According to the law, communities may “adopt time, place and manner rules that do not conflict with the Cannabis Regulation Act or the Dee Johnson Clean Indoor Air Act, including rules that reasonably limit density of licenses and operating times consistent with neighborhood uses …”
The mayor told the assembled residents, “As far as hours of operation, the bill says ‘reasonably.’ You can’t treat them any different than you do any other business.”
The new law clearly states no community may prohibit production or sales of cannabis.
With a city zoning map in hand, Aldridge said the committee members generally prefer encouraging cannabis businesses to locate along NM 18 and NM 128, two state roads that intersect in eastern Jal.
Several attendees agreed the community would prefer to keep cannabis businesses outside the downtown area to avoid increased traffic that already reaches heavy levels due to oilfield vehicles traveling through the city.
Covering the meeting for the newspaper Jal Record, resident writer/editor and minister John Earp addressed the mayor with concerns about public consumption of cannabis.
“If a store opened up and just sold marijuana and people took it home to smoke it, I don’t think that’s going to be a big issue for most people,” Earp said. “But a place where they’re smoking out in the environment is going to be a big deal.”
Aldridge pointed out the cannabis ordinance in Jal likely will mirror rules having to do with alcohol sales and consumption.
“You’re already not allowed to drink beer at the lake or brown-bag walking down a sidewalk,” the mayor said.
The CRA law itself provides a $50 fine for smoking marijuana in public, but licenses for adult consumption areas for people over age 21 will be available.
With the Jal community consistently concerned about water usage, Aldridge checked a Google source for how much water a marijuana plant uses, concluding the personal home production of up to 12 mature plants and microbusinesses limited by law to a maximum of 200 plants likely would be little problem.
On the other hand, a licensed large business allowed to grow up to 8,000 plants could be trouble for the city’s water supply.
Councilor Richard, a young mother and junior high school teacher, proposed that any regulations should ensure the safety of children. The law itself allows municipalities to set a minimum distance of no more than 300 feet from a school or daycare center.
One resident who preferred not to be identified pointed out security in most cases will involve multiple cameras.
Although the meeting lasted almost two hours, no final decisions were made as city officials agreed a new ordinance likely will be submitted to the council for first reading in mid-September.
By law, the Cannabis Control Division (CCD) of the New Mexico Regulation & Licensing Dept. will begin accepting and processing license applications for cannabis producers, cannabis producer microbusinesses and medical cannabis producers no later than Sept. 1.
By Jan. 1, the CCD will begin licensing cannabis training and education programs, issuing cannabis server permits and accepting and processing all additional license applications, such as for retail sales and consumption areas.
Retail sale of commercial cannabis begins no later than April 1, 2022.
Asked about what steps are being taken in Hobbs, the county’s largest incorporated city, Mayor Sam Cobb told the News-Sun, “Our legal department has been in contact with the state and has had conferences. There have been some unanswered questions. We’re working on an ordinance and will be coming forward with that in the next 30-60 days.”
Cobb pointed out the lack of a zoning ordinance in Hobbs means the city will have to take a different approach than communities with zoning.
“Quite honestly, there are still some unanswered questions and we’re trying to get those answers before we draft an ordinance,” Cobb said. “We would prefer that all of the state rules are in place before we pass an ordinance so we don’t have come back and amend our ordinance.”