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Hobbs Commission discusses marijuana regulations

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So many questions, not enough answers.

The City of Hobbs Commission held a work session Monday to discuss the proposed city ordinance on the possession, cultivation, manufacture and sale of cannabis.

While Hobbs City Attorney Efren Cortez and his staff compiled and presented a PowerPoint presentation on the potential impacts the industry could have on the city, many supporters of the industry had one overlining concern about the ordinance — talk to them first before passing the city law on how they can conduct their business.

“Everybody that’s in here who wants to be in the cannabis business is from here (Lea County),” said Hobbs resident Daniel Johnson, who also was one of several representatives of the Lea County Cannabis Coalition who spoke at the end of the work session. Johnson has plans to produce cannabis at his south Hobbs home. He told the commission he, like many other potential producers, has researched the financial and time aspects needed to produce a product that can be economically beneficial.

Johnson believes it’s these potential producers are who the commission should visit with when drafting an ordinance regarding the industry.

“I’m a life-long Lea County resident, grew up in Lovington and have lived (in Hobbs) for 14 years. This is my second business that I have owned and hopefully (the cannabis business) will be my third here that I am talking about. We’re all lifelong residents pretty much, we’re all people who want to stay here and we all want to do good things for the community.”

The topic of water usage was discussed through most of the work session. How much water does a producer need? How can it be regulated? Is there enough water available for cannabis production in Hobbs? How much water used can then be recycled through proper filtering systems to then be used as effluent water?

Cortez used data from three studies: The Cannabis Control Commission, the Oxford Journal of BioScience and New Frontier Data, known as an expert in providing needed knowledge on the cannabis industry.

“We were provided some very good resources by some of our constituents and we had the opportunity to read these resources,” Cortez said. “(New Frontier Data) is a monster of a resource. I think it is a very well-written resource and I think the New Frontier Data Company, or incorporated … I do believe in reading this particular publication. I can honestly say it appears to be objectively written both from the producers side and the regulatory side.”

The first part of his presentation dealt with the current drought conditions Hobbs is in. According to New Frontier Data, Hobbs and most of Lea County, lies in the severe drought classification of D4.

“So what does that mean?” Cortez said. “Under D4 drought classification we know that water shortages are widespread. Surface water is depleted. Federal irrigation water deliveries are extremely low. Junior water rights are curtailed. Water prices are extremely high. Wells are dry, more and deeper wells are drilled. Water quality is poor.”

EVEN IF THE WATER SITUATION IN LEA COUNTY improved to a D3 classification, according to the study, “water is inadequate for agriculture, wildlife, and urban needs; reservoirs are extremely low, hydropower is restricted.”

“Those are the things that we, at this commission, should be cognizant of when you make your determination on the type of restrictions to place on cannabis establishments,” Cortez told the commission.

During his presentation Cortez referred to a variety of studies on the amount of water usage, per plant and whether it’s grown indoors or outdoors. Oxford’s BioScience showed data from a 2015 study stating six gallons was used per plant, per day, for outdoor growers during the summer months in California. Another showed the usage of 38,000 gallons for 400 plants. What he learned is water consumption data for cultivation is too varied to give approximate estimates.

“‘Consumption amounts vary with inadequate data,’” Cortez read from a study. “I think that’s important because we don’t have a firm hold on how much a indoor grower grows. I think it’s widely accepted at six gallons per plant, per day, for outdoor grows is widely used and accepted. But when it comes to indoor grows because there is so much variation we don’t know how much water these individuals indoor growers are going to use. What we do know, the reference material states ‘Federal prohibition has further hampered efforts to understand resource use and efficiency opportunities, as research institutions which receive federal funding have been prohibited from conducting research on cannabis that inform cultivation best practices.’

“In other words, we don’t know.”

Victoria Bruce, a retired nurse who now works in the cannabis industry and is also a member of the coalition, said the commission should look at regulation through water usage and not plant count. During Cortez’s presentation he stated a reference that through hydroponic usage in an indoor facility, a room of 250 square feet, full of cannabis plants needs 40 gallons of water per day. During her comments, Bruce said that a 250-square-foot room can produce 200 cannabis plants.

“I know a lot of indoor growers in this area, I don’t know of anybody who is growing outdoor,” Bruce said to the commission. “So if you want to look at water conservation you can eliminate outdoor growing within the city limits and you eliminate that six gallons per plant. Then you are looking more at a 40 gallons per room per usage.”

Bruce, who works at Bryan’s Green Care in Hobbs, said the business uses rain-collection techniques and then also use runoff water that is recycled. She also stated that Bryan’s Green Care works off two water lines, a 6-inch and an 8-inch, which she was told by city officials is enough for the business to grow its plants.

“We don’t use chemicals that a restaurant wouldn’t use. There’s nothing that is super significant,” Bruce said. “We have to follow agriculture guidelines for what chemicals and different things we use. If water usage is a concern, why don’t we base this on water usage and not plant count. Because there seems to be way too many variables there.”

ONE OF JOHNSON’S CONCERNS IS THE WATER-LINE SUPPLY, which the proposed ordinance states should be a 10-inch water line. Not all of Hobbs is on a 10-inch line. Where Johnson wants to start his business it is part of a six-inch water line. He has plans to use a hydroponic water system to grow 200 plants.

“Usually on average we can use .6 gallons per day, per plant,” Johnson said. “It could go up to one gallon per day depending on the strain and a bunch of other variables with plants nature.”

Johnson said the water would come from a 500-gallon reservoir tank that would be filled during the times of low usage in the area. From there the water would go into another 500-gallon reservoir tank that has the needed nutrients for the plants. The two tanks allow for better efficiency in water usage, Johnson said.

“I can set this thing up to where the low usage time is between midnight and 4 o’clock in the morning,” Johnson said. “I can set my timers to kick on a valve to fill the tanks up while everyone is asleep. That way I am not trying to do it during a high usage time where we don’t deplete the volume going to other houses where people are trying to cook dinner, take showers or get kids ready for school. So all of that can be set up in a really simple deal.”

Another question dealt with the potential outdoor smell of cannabis. There was also a question on the need for a water fire suppression system in the case of a fire, which Hobbs Fire Marshal Shawn Williams explained to the potential producers during the meeting.

Aside from the water debate, other topics discussed included the number of plant growth on a farm. Cortez broke down the four different categories for potential growers from 1-12 plants to as many as 8,000 plants.

Commissioner Finn Smith asked Johnson questions regarding the type of transports needed for his business. Since Johnson is only in the production part of the industry, he said there is the potential for work in transportation of the products. Johnson said a farm his size would probably require nothing more than vans for his product.

Another potential producer Steve Thomaschefsky, who currently works in the oil and gas industry questioned a television report Cortez used at the end of his presentation. The report interviewed law enforcement officials in Colorado on what New Mexico can expect with the regulation of cannabis. In a nutshell, the officials stated increased crime.

“They did say several times ‘the illegal cannabis business and trade’ and we are interested in the legal cannabis business and trade,” Thomaschefsky said. “We want to be regulated. We want to do it safely. We want to restrict access to the youth. We want to produce a pure product that’s not similar to what you may find on the street, which may be laced. We are trying to do it the right way, a compassionate cannabis industry. They have it for medical purposes. We’re trying to tailor it for our community and be safe and do it the right way. I can’t say it is fair to tie us to the illegal trade because as we know there’s been a war on drugs for how many years? And drugs are readily available and cheaper than they have ever been. So to hear that tied to us is not fair. We want to do it the right way and build trust in our community and deliver a quality product that we can all believe in and profit from.”

Commissioner Finn Smith asked Thomaschefsky a question regarding the usage of cannabis in the oil and gas industry. Can an oilfield worker, who is off of work for the weekend and decides to partake in cannabis, be allowed to return to his job at the start of the work week if the cannabis is still within his system? If the same worker were to partake in a large amount of alcohol on a Friday and not have any more for the rest of the weekend, there is a good chance it would be out of his system by the time the worker returns to work on Monday.

“That industry is very stringent on alcohol, drugs, etc.,” Smith said. “… I would assume you’re fine to go to work, but there is nothing out there that is a test that says ‘you’re good to go.’ Because to my knowledge, and correct me if I am wrong, with blood alcohol there are steps. If you are below .008, you are fine to drive. But with cannabis it’s kind of a ‘go/no go’ deal.”

“Yes,” Thomaschefsky answered. “I would be fired.”

“How do you deal with that?” Smith asked.

“CBD IS AN ALTERNATIVE,” THOMASCHEFSKY SAID. “That they can use for various aches and pains. There is a breathalyzer on the horizon. It hasn’t been been fully utilized yet they are still working on it. There is a breathalyzer for THC, for marijuana, we haven’t come that far yet. Will that change moving forward? I can’t say because the big Fortune 500 companies probably won’t change their rules. But some may and some do, if I understand correctly.”

Thomaschefsky said he doesn’t think a person who partakes in cannabis on their off day from work and is tested positive 30 days later should be sanctioned by their company.

“It’s not fair,” he said. “I don’t think that is something they should be held libel for. Even though that is what is going on now, until we can move forward and get more regulation as per the breathalyzer for marijuana for driving under the influence and for showing up to a position that is safety-oriented. My advice to anyone who works in the oilfield would be to abstain or use a similar CBD product that does not have THC in it.”

Lea County Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Long addressed the commission with questions of potential crime increase due to the legalization. She mentioned how there were snickering taking place during the television report Thomaschefsky commented to and asked for some clarification.

“I have a real interest in knowing. The city commissions are tasked with making sure there is someone to respond when you call 911,” Long said. “The county is tasked with making sure there is a deputy to respond when you call 911, so I have a question for (the potential producers). Why is it that crime won’t go up? I absolutely hope that it is true.”

An answer from someone in the audience mentioned the desire for the potential producers to build a legal business.

“Are you worried about theft of cash? Theft of product? Is there any of that kind of worry?” Long asked. “Because I want to make sure that we are staff properly for everyone who calls 911.”

“We have to have an alarm,” another person from the crowd answered. “We have to have cameras. They have to call Vivint directly. They have to call the police.”

“There are a lot of provisions the state has already put into place,” another person answered. “Vaults have to be bolted down.”

“There can’t be product seen from a window,” another voice answered. “There are a lot of things.”

Mayor Sam Cobb told Long that he believes the law enforcement impact will be at the dispensary level.

“People coming in and consuming cannabis and then getting on the streets,” Cobb said. “To me, you have to separate the growing aspects to the dispensing and how we enforce that. I think, for my purposes, we have to look at it separately. Based on the legality of growing it and the legality issues and the law enforcement issues that our community certainly will be faced with. Because as close as we are to Texas, it’s going to be a boon town for people to come in. And most of them, if they purchase it, a lot of them are not going to take it back home to consume it.”

HAVING INDIVIDUALS FROM NEIGHBORING Texas communities coming to Hobbs to purchase and partake in cannabis is a major concern Cobb said.

“We have talked to a number of the border communities in New Mexico and Colorado to where they have that, they have seen an increase in the use of marijuana improperly,” Cobb said. “There is no doubt about it. It’s something we have to deal with for sure.”

At the end of the meeting Cobb and Commissioner Chris Mills agreed with a comment from the audience that the way to build a cannabis ordinance is through water usage and not plant count.

“We need to come at it from the water usage aspect and if somebody is more efficient with their plant and what they have done through their genetic modifications with their plants and they can do 500 with the same amount of water as someone with 200, more power to them,” Cobb said.

“The cannabis community here, we want to make it stronger,” Bruce said from the audience. “We want to have functions where we can do things through big companies and stuff. Cannabis users are not radical, drunk, meth-head people. They are mellow. They want to stay home. They don’t get into more trouble than what you are saying. Somebody’s driving on cannabis is slow and forgets to go at a stop light when it turns green. I mean not that you should drive on cannabis, but you know what I mean. You guys (the commission) are assuming that cannabis users are like all the other drug users that they have been associated with for years. And they are not. We are normal people. I was a nurse for 20 years and now I am retired and cannabis is my drug of choice to treat the illness that I have.”

Commissioner Dwayne Penick responded that he didn’t want the cannabis community to feel the commission thinks cannabis users are bad people. Cobb stated that like other drugs, and alcohol, people can get under the influence and do things that they would not normally do.

“Overregulation increases the crime because it is overregulated,” an audience member said.

“That’s very true,” said Mills, who is a defense lawyer.

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