Proposed changes to the Doña Ana County Unified Development Code are under review by the DAC Planning and Zoning Commission, which is currently evaluating proposed regulations on cannabis.
The change is prompted by the passage of The Cannabis Regulation Act on the state level, legalizing adult-use cannabis and granting local jurisdictions the ability to set time, place and manner restrictions.
Community Development Planner Albert Casillas says the proposal will limit where cannabis consumption areas can be located.
“We're basically saying if you want to have a consumption area, currently right now you're only going to be allowed to operate within a retail establishment for cannabis,” Casillas said. “It’s only allowed if the cannabis consumption area occupies a separate and distinct area inside the building for which smoke does not infiltrate other indoor workplaces or other public spaces.”
A big concern among cannabis stakeholders is a proposal requiring select special use permits. County staff is currently recommending special use permits in residential zones in order to give notice to nearby residents. Commissioner Steve Montanez says that while he sympathizes with the frustration cannabis growers are feeling, he stressed it is the responsibility of the commission to consider the impact on all stakeholders.
“Our job is going to be...to consider the interest of everybody involved, not just everybody who's applying for a permit,” Montanez said. “There are going to be residents who at first are going to have an issue with traffic impact, who are going to have an issue with retail in their neighborhoods.”
Jason Estrada, a local business owner, says drawing out the county process will severely impact the growing season, emphasizing that cannabis growers have to meet select county requirements prior to applying for licensing through the state.
Already, the state has begun to accept licensing applications, but without clear county guidance Estrada says he fears Doña Ana County growers will be left behind.
“We have no idea how long the state's going to take. We all can agree on that, that they can take forever. People in Doña Ana County are not going to have their crops ready,” Estrada said. “Doña Ana County will get left behind because the small business owners that are opening up retail shops in Las Cruces will be buying from other counties, will be purchasing from other counties.”
Cannabis stakeholder Kevin Lutz also spoke out, noting his concern that greenhouse construction could require a special use permit.
“You get the better product indoors, in a greenhouse,” Lutz said. “If you're agriculture, and you're already growing crops on 500 acres I don't understand why it would be a special use permit to erect a greenhouse just to cover it. Because it is just a covering. That's really all it is, it's climate control, you'll get a better product.”
The Doña Ana County Planning and Zoning Commission is currently planning to vote on the proposed cannabis regulations October 14. Their recommendations will then be sent to the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners for approval.