San Juan County Commission approves amended cannabis regulation measure
Minimum-distance language altered to address concerns
- The County Commission approved the amended ordinance unanimously.
- The county's ordinance applies only to unincorporated areas of the county, not territory that exists within municipalities or the Navajo Nation.
- The ordinance includes an emergency clause that calls for it to take effect immediately.
FARMINGTON — Members of the San Juan County Commission unanimously approved a proposed cannabis regulation ordinance during their Aug. 17 meeting, although they amended two sections of the measure that deal with where cannabis-related enterprises can operate.
The vote came after approximately an hour and 40 minutes of discussion that included a public hearing and commission debate. Most of the talk centered on a section of the proposed ordinance that required cannabis enterprises to be located at least 1,000 feet from various other entities, including residences, schools, churches, parks and government buildings.
Several people already engaged or planning to become engaged in cannabis-related businesses in New Mexico spoke during the public hearing and voiced concerns that the requirement was too restrictive and would inhibit the growth of the industry in San Juan County.
Of particular concern was a section of the ordinance stipulating that the distance would be measured from property line to property line, especially when it came to cannabis-growing operations located in rural areas. They also said the 1,000-foot distance requirement was excessive.
Many of the commissioners acknowledged the restrictive nature of those requirements, and much of the discussion during the meeting was devoted to trying to piece together an acceptable alternative that still protected the interests of nearby residents or other property owners.
"We want the cannabis industry to be successful in San Juan County, and we know there won't be success if you have conflict between growers and residential areas," County Manager Mike Stark said. "That's going to be troublesome for growers. That's going to be troublesome for this commission to have to deal with those continual complaints."
Commissioners heard from several individuals during the public hearing, including Jason Little of New Mexico Alternative Care, a Farmington-based medical marijuana dispensary that is in the process of converting to a recreational marijuana business; Joe Rockos, a lifelong San Juan County resident who described himself as a licensed cannabis grower through the University of New Mexico; Dave Questa of Maggie's Farm, a southern Colorado-based cannabis producer and seller that is planning to expand its operations into New Mexico; and Jeremy Bonin, one of the partners in a recreational marijuana business that operates locations throughout southwest Colorado.
Little and Bonin had mostly good things to say about the proposed ordinance, with Bonin telling commissioners, "I believe this ordinance is extremely reasonable and one of the most business-friendly ordinances I have ever seen."
Little echoed that sentiment, describing the measure as "very well written, very achievable."
But the two men and the others who spoke outlined the difficulty of trying to conduct a grow operation under the 1,000-foot, property line-to-property line stipulation from cannabis establishment to residence. They expressed the fear that a grow operation would be automatically disqualified for a license under the ordinance if any adjoining property had a residence on it, no matter how far the residence actually was from the operation itself.
County attorney Joe Sawyer, whose staff put together the proposed ordinance, said that language was borrowed from laws that have placed similar restrictions on establishments that sell liquor or are adult oriented.
Commissioners seemed to buy the arguments of Little, Bonin and others, and they spent several minutes exploring possible amendments to the ordinance that would decrease the minimum-distance requirement and alter the property line-to-property line stipulation. But that proved easier said than done, with many of the proposed changes being rejected as unworkable.
"We're left trying to figure out what's a fair distance between the two," commission Chairman John Beckstead said.
Finally, Commissioner Steve Lanier proposed an amendment that reduced the minimum-distance requirement to 300 feet. The amendment also called for the replacement of the property line-to-property line stipulation with a more-nuanced requirement. The amendment calls for that minimum distance to be measured from the security fence surrounding a cannabis operation to the nearest corner of a residence or other building covered in the ordinance, or the improved portion of a park or playground.
The amended measure quickly was approved.
The county's ordinance applies only to unincorporated areas of the county, not territory that exists within municipalities or the Navajo Nation. Many municipalities are working on their own cannabis-related ordinances.
The ordinance includes an emergency clause that calls for it to take effect immediately. State officials are required to begin processing applications for recreational cannabis-related enterprises on Sept. 1.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.