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 soon as next month, the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners will vote on a zoning ordinance change that specifically addresses cannabis establishments in the county. Since New Mexico’s Cannabis Regulation Act went into effect in June, municipalities and counties across the state have been crafting their own ordinances to regulate where, and in some cases when, cannabis establishments can operate. Related: ABQ city council rejects most of mayor’s cannabis zoning proposals
During a commission meeting on Tuesday, Bernalillo County Zoning Administrator Nicholas Hamm presented the proposal that already received unanimous support from the county zoning commission. Besides requiring a level of odor mitigation, the proposal would also prevent cannabis consumption areas from being outside. Hamm told commissioners that the idea behind prohibiting outdoor consumption, even at a licensed facility, is to keep cannabis smoke away from the general public.
While the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department is working towards finalizing rules and regulations for cannabis businesses, local governments around the state are also doing some fine-tuning of their respective zoning laws.
The state’s new Cannabis Regulation Act prohibits municipalities and counties from limiting things like the distance between a cannabis establishment and schools, but also allows those local governments some leeway in zoning ordinances. The City of Albuquerque for example was able to limit the density of cannabis establishments through its zoning plan.
Most of the types of establishments cities and counties are taking into consideration had predecessors under the state’s medical cannabis law. But other types of businesses, like cannabis consumption areas, are a new concept to local governments.
The Bernalillo County Zoning Commission, for example, recently approved a proposal that would ban outdoor cannabis consumption areas. The proposal still has to go through the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners before it becomes official, but Erica Rowland has been front and center trying to educate officials on why indoor-only consumption lounges may not be a good idea. Rowland spoke against the proposal at the last zoning meeting and told Growing Forward, the collaborative podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS, that she aims to open a sort of cannabis country club.
“What I’m looking for is really to embrace the cannabis lifestyle that we have become so accustomed to as being patients,” Rowland said.
Rowland likened forcing cannabis consumption areas indoors to forcing users “back in the cannabis closet.”
The idea of cannabis consumption areas is not as new as many think.