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Doña Ana County Commissioners Publish Cannabis Zoning Recommendations

Oct 28, 2021

County Community Development Planner Albert Casillas presents proposed cannabis zoning regulations.

Doña Ana County Commissioners have published cannabis zoning recommendations from the county’s planning and zoning commission, allowing for a 30-day public comment period prior to a final vote.

While adult-use cannabis is legal on the state level, Doña Ana County still has the authority to set time, place and manner restrictions. This includes establishing the need for special use permits in select areas, such as T3 and T4 zones.

County Community Development Planner Albert Casillas says the commission is recommending that certain restrictions in T2 rural zones be eliminated—including the need for special use permits for select growers.

“One of the recommendations from the planning and zoning commission to the board of county commissioners was that cannabis micro-businesses be allowed by right on the T2 district,” Casillas said.

Planning and Zoning Commissioner Robert Czerniak also recommended eliminating the need for a special use permit in T3 and T4 zones due to a distancing requirement that would ensure a 300-foot distance between cannabis establishments and places like schools and residential areas.

“If it's 300 feet away from a residence it seems to me that’s far enough, that it should be allowed,” Czerniak said. “If it's within 300 feet, it's going to kick it up to a special use permit anyway. So, you’re really only allowing the use if it's far enough away from residences. They're not going to be allowed in the center of the communities because they're always going to bump up against the residence.”

Ultimately, other members of the commission said special use permits in residential zones are necessary to ensure residents have an opportunity to provide public comment—including Commissioner Daniel Lere who emphasized the need to treat cannabis establishments the same as other businesses like wineries.  

“When you permit something in any zone you basically exclude any public comment from future neighbors,” Lere said. “I think it's unfair for them to be able to move to a neighborhood and get no feedback from their future neighbors. We do that for a winery, we do it for a wine tasting room. Those are all special use permits.”

But some cannabis producers argue that while there’s a case for cannabis retailers to be under more restrictions, cannabis growers should be treated the same as other agriculture producers. Community Development Planner Albert Casillas says that a lack of uniform crop treatment comes down to current state guidelines.

“The difference is that the state hasn't adopted cannabis as part of their agricultural definition,” Casillas said. “We still have to come up with rules and regulations for the growing of cannabis. I'm hoping that maybe, later on, if cannabis does become legalized all throughout the country, that we might be able to compare it to a regular crop, and therefore restrictions might be a little bit less.”

Counties across New Mexico are working on cannabis zoning requirements. Some, like Bernalillo County, have yet to finalize their own recommendations, while others, like Santa Fe County, finalized cannabis zoning policy in July.

According to the Santa Fe Reporter, the Santa Fe County Planning Commission originally recommended restricting cannabis growers to ranching, agricultural and rural zones, but county commissioners ultimately voted to expand where growers will be allowed—though other zones require permit applications.

Within Doña Ana County, the fight for a less restrictive permitting process continues, with cannabis stakeholders like Jason Estrada stressing the need to allow greenhouses without a special use permit.

“You cannot grow cannabis right now, and have it ready for next year, outdoors,” Estrada said. “All the growers in here, if they have to get a special use permit to put a temporary structure over their cannabis plants, they will not be ready by April 1.”

The Doña Ana County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended fewer restrictions for greenhouse use in select zones, as Community Development Planner Albert Casillas describes.

“We're saying you're allowed to do that by right, if you're in T2 or T3, if you're assessed as agriculture,” Casillas said. “If you're not assessed as agriculture, then you know that you do have to get a special-use permit, but if you're already assessed as agriculture, it doesn't matter if you're growing outdoors or indoors.”

The Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners will further review cannabis zoning recommendations in late November. County residents looking to provide public input can contact Albert Casillas via email.