December 15, 2021

Bernalillo County passes ordinance banning outdoor cannabis consumption areas

The Bernalillo County Commission unanimously approved an ordinance on Tuesday that bans outdoor cannabis consumption areas in parts of the county not already governed by the City of Albuquerque. 

An earlier version of the proposal would have made a distinction between medical and recreational-use cannabis consumption areas as well as prohibited multiple cannabis production and manufacturing in one place. The commission ultimately amended the ordinance to eliminate the distinction between the two types of cannabis use and allow integrated cannabis businesses to perform multiple operations in one location, after securing a special-use permit. 

But even with the amendments, the ordinance would still prohibit outdoor cannabis consumption areas. 

Bernalillo County Zoning Administrator Nicholas Hamm told commissioners that the intention of the legislation was to “create an environment that’s separated from the public broadly, because this is still a controlled substance, and it has some intoxicating effects, so that adults can do that within a building and behind a carbon filter.”

None of the commissioners took issue with prohibiting an outdoor consumption area, but Erica Rowland, a medical cannabis patient advocate and cannabis business license hopeful, spoke out against the consumption area portion of the proposal.

Rowland praised the commission for adding a special permit option for multiple cannabis uses, but said she was worried about the consequences of requiring businesses licensed as consumption areas to keep smoking inside.

“I’m very concerned with outdoor consumption not being allowed,” Rowland said. “The indoor consumption-only language is very restrictive. As a medical cannabis patient, we’ve been consuming outdoors since time has begun, and for us to be forced in a fishbowl, so to speak, or back in the cannabis closet, is something I’d like you to consider.”

Growing Forward, the collaborative podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS spoke with Rowland in October, when the proposal was in its early stages. Rowland told Growing Forward that she plans to open a country club-type cannabis facility, that would include outdoor smoking, on her property that is near the northern border of Bernalillo County. 

Commissioner Walt Benson said he remembers going to a local bar and smoking cigars with friends until the state’s Dee Johnson Clean Indoor Air Act banned indoor smoking. Benson reasoned that since the newly approved Cannabis Regulation Act allows indoor cannabis smoking in certain situations, that it’s easier to smoke cannabis in a public setting than cigars. 

“I hope anybody who’s concerned about these limitations, recognize that it’s harder to smoke a cigar than it is this,” Benson said. 

Cigars and other types of tobacco products are currently permitted in nearly all outdoor public settings, whereas the Cannabis Regulation Act prohibits smoking cannabis in public, unless it is in a licensed cannabis consumption area. The New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department and its Cannabis Control Division has not finalized rules for consumption areas, but regulators have said that consumption areas would not be allowed to also serve alcohol.  

Commission Chair Charlene Pyskoty, before the vote, noted that the recreational-use cannabis industry is still in its infancy and that changes can be made in the future. 

“If we see something that needs to change, it’s possible to amend it later on,” Pyskoty said. 

The City of Albuquerque finalized its zoning ordinances for cannabis establishments earlier this year, but did not prohibit outdoor consumption areas. State law also allows for outdoor smoking at private residences.