Santa Fe County Commission eases guidelines for recreational cannabis growers | Local News

The Santa Fe County Commission on Friday unanimously approved a set of guidelines meant to ease barriers for small recreational cannabis cultivators. 

During a four-hour special meeting, commissioners ditched a requirement that outdoor grow operations only be on land zoned for dairy farms.

Instead, they decided to allow conditional use permits for outdoor grow sites in “traditional communities” or smaller, historic communities that use local waterways to support small, family farms. 

The ordinance allows outdoor cannabis producers or microbusinesses to obtain permits on all agriculture/ranching and rural zoning districts, with conditional use in all rural fringe, rural residential, residential fringe and traditional community zoning districts. Indoor production will still be treated the same as commercial greenhouses.

The rules only apply to county land, not land within city limits. 

As originally drafted, the ordinance would have permitted outdoor grows on any land that could be used for dairy farms as a way to mitigate odor. It did not make provisions for “traditional communities.” Without the amendment, smaller microgrowers in those communities could only grow in a greenhouse. 

Commissioner Anna Hansen said she was concerned the language of the draft ordinance created unnecessary roadblocks for microbusinesses and went against the spirit of the state statute. 

“I have lived in New Mexico for 50 years just about,” Hansen said. “Many people have grown marijuana in their yards, outside, and it’s been perfectly fine. So I think that by putting a heavier burden on the small microgrower by making them only able to grow indoors is also creating another burden that I believe the Legislature did not intend.” 

Earlier this year, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Cannabis Regulation Act into law, legalizing recreational cannabis use for adults 21 and over, creating a commercial market for legal production and sales, and allowing for personal use production of up to six plants per adult. 

The legislation doesn’t allow local governments to ban cannabis, but it does allow a level of local control, including limits on density and hours of operation.  

Recreational cannabis sales will start April 1, but the state will start accepting cannabis licenses Sept. 1, causing local governments to scramble to approve a set of guidelines. 

Among other rules regarding cannabis: 

  • Consumption areas and cannabis retailers will treated the same as bars and alcohol establishments, including hours of business. Cannabis products can be served from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., while cannabis retailers can be open from 7 a.m. to midnight. 
  • Cannabis businesses must be 300 feet from a school or day care, the maximum distance under the Cannabis Regulation Act. 
  • Cannabis businesses must be at least 200 feet apart from one another.
  • Consumption areas must be indoors in a separate building. 

Much of the debate Friday centered on whether conditional use permits created more issues for smaller growers. 

Hansen said a conditional use permit, which requires a series of public hearings and input, was a heavy lift for smaller farmers.

“I don’t want to make it more difficult for these small microgrowers,” Hansen said. “It seems like we have just made it much easier for the big guys, and for the small guys we have made it more difficult with the conditional use.” 

Commissioner Henry Roybal, speaking via Zoom, said he would be OK with allowing for permitted use as opposed to conditional permitting, but other commissioners raised questions over whether permitted use gave residents in what are called community district overlays time to weigh in. 

The county’s zoning matrix includes 13 community district overlays, which have the option to further augment zoning uses to best fit their communities. Those communities work with the county to make the changes, but there were concerns about how long that process might take. 

Penny Ellis-Green, director of the county’s Growth Management Department, said staff was working on a “streamlined” process to amend community overlay districts. But Commissioner Rudy Garcia said he was concerned that there wasn’t a more concrete idea of what that process might look like before voting in favor of the ordinance. 

After the meeting, he indicated he would meet with staff to discuss the process. 

The ordinance also included language ensuring each community district overlay could enact different regulations after the ordinance was approved. 

Commissioner Hank Hughes said the commission was trying to strike a balance between allowing enough leeway for small businesses, while also giving local communities the opportunity to weigh in. 

“I am really hoping we can do an expedited process for those traditional communities that want it there,” Hughes said. 

Commissioners said the ordinance was a work in progress and would be subject to more vetting. 

“This is a challenging issue that we are struggling with,” Hansen said shortly after voting. “We want to make it the best that we can make it. … I think I have expressed how much I support the small business in the community and how important [that] is to me.” 

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