New Mexico county prepares for recreational cannabis

LAS VEGAS, N.M. (AP) – As New Mexico draws closer to the start of recreational cannabis establishments being able to operate in the state, counties are working to make sure their rules and regulations are up to date. San Miguel County recently took its next step toward that, as the county commission passed its full cannabis ordinance.

Amanda Salas, the county’s planning and zoning director, presented the ordinance to the commission.

“We all believe this could be beneficial to the county, even small, local producers,” Salas told the Las Vegas Optic.

Recreational cannabis was legalized in New Mexico during last April’s legislative session. People have been allowed to recreationally consume cannabis in the state since June, and the state is now accepting applications for all licenses, which include for production, extraction and retail establishments. Retail establishments are scheduled to be able to open in April 2022.

Salas said there are currently four proposed cannabis producers going through the process to obtain licenses in San Miguel County, in addition to one individual who has been given a temporary, probationary license before finalizing the process.

Applicants must complete all requirements with the Cannabis Control Division, which includes an approved water plan from the Office of the State Engineer. Without an approved water plan, the applicant cannot proceed at the state level or with San Miguel County.

The county passed its ordinance less than a week after the City of Las Vegas finalized its ordinance. However, the county’s ordinance is more lenient toward growers and retail establishments in many ways.

Among them, the county only requires a 200-foot separation between cannabis establishments, while the city requires a 500-foot separation. In many areas around town, this could severely limit the number of establishments able to do business.

In addition, the city prohibits cannabis consumption sites, similar to a bar for alcohol, while the county will allow them on a conditional use basis, assuming they meet all other requirements. The county will require a security presence at all consumption sites, but not in other areas, which the city will require.

“We aren’t prohibiting anything outright since the NM Cannabis Regulation Act limits a local jurisdiction of completely prohibiting the operation of a licensee,” Salas said. “We will take a look at everything and see what makes sense for San Miguel County. The best thing we can do is be safely prepared for the industry and the community.”

Most of the applications received by the county so far have been for producing cannabis, rather than retail, which the county welcomes.

Because of this, expected revenue from cannabis in the county could be lower than many other places around the state, as most money will be collected through taxes on sales. To counteract that slightly, permitted producer licenses will be required to pay $2 per plant in the county on top of the $10 per plant they have to pay to the state.

Smaller licenses such as cannabis producer micro-businesses and integrated cannabis micro-businesses will not have to pay this fee unless they enter into a business arrangement with another licensee, making it beneficial for the small farmer.

Salas said most other counties are not requiring growers to pay additional money on their plants, but the county sees it as an opportunity to make a little more revenue, as the state Cannabis Regulation Act does not prohibit them from doing so.

She said the county is attempting to embrace the cannabis industry, as local leaders recognize the positive impacts it could have on the entire state.

“Money collected through cannabis can be invested towards greater economic and infrastructure projects that could greatly benefit San Miguel County,” Salas said. “It isn’t restricted in the way that other funds are so we have to be smart about what we do with the revenue. It is a great opportunity for us.”