Pot Growing

Officials from the Rio Arriba County Planning and Zoning Department met Aug. 19 with cannabis industry leaders outside the County offices in Española. House Bill 2 passed in March, legalizing the industry in New Mexico, but left the bulk of regulations up to local municipalities.

Officials from Rio Arriba County Planning and Zoning Department met Aug. 19 with County business interests to discuss how the County will regulate marijuana growth and retail.

Planning and Zoning Director Russell Naranjo said many of the local regulations on marijuana have been left up to the local municipalities.

“We’ve been tasked with creating regulations and codes with the passage of HB2, we’re very limited to what we can do as a county,” Naranjo said.

Assistant planner Rebekah Seawall explained the types of regulations that the County can enact.

“We’re limited to regulations around land and time, and hours and location, what do those hours look like? How far can you be from the road?” she said.

The Planning and Zoning Department was planning on a Cannabis Business District for sales along the major corridors in the County and wanted to keep sales out of the small villages and towns. Like many other businesses Narnajo said there would be a public hearing where community members could voice concerns.

Naranjo said he hoped the cheap land and property taxes, as well as the relative amount of water compared to the rest of the state, would be a draw for growers to the County who would bring in revenue through taxes and business licenses.

“The grows will be going into the villages themselves and that’s one of the things we’re going to have to protect,” Naranjo said. “We’re all in this together and we need to work together to make this a success.”

Agriculture roots

Timo Serna, the co-owner and operations manager of Luz Del Norte Cannabis Farms said he was concerned with requirements of distances from other people’s property. 

“Distance can be a problem because the land tracts here are all narrow and long,” Serna said.

He said he left New Mexico to work on grows in Colorado but hoped to bring skills he developed in Colorado back to New Mexico. 

“I was going back to my agricultural roots,” Serna said. “I see it different, it’s just a different crop. My family’s been farming all their lives and then I spent the last 30 years not doing that. It’s a way to get young people who have lost their agricultural ways back to their roots.”

Serna said he knew that many older people might be suspicious of the crop but he said that he hoped people’s opinions would change when they saw their children working good paying jobs.

“If we can get people to use their current land, I see so many properties where they’re left unplanted or overgrown,” he said. “Those people could be making hundreds to thousands of dollars for a few hundred dollars.”

Serna said he was worried if the County didn’t provide assistance for people interested in growing eventually large growing operations would come in and start buying property and people will be selling off their land to larger agribusinesses.

Need water

Marijuana is also a very water intensive crop, Naranjo said local acequias will have final say of any commercial crop going on any property, and growers will not be able to get a license if they don’t get signoff on water usage first, be it from an acequia or the office of the state engineer if the crop land is on a well.

David Valdez the president of the Española Chamber of Commerce and owner of Releaf Cannabis Consulting said he was worried about licensing on businesses resulting in a lack of a competitive market. 

“The cannabis industry in New Mexico, it sucks, there’s no free market no competition, if you allow more stores, good stores, then bad stores will leave,” Valdez said. “I really hope that as they open up we’ll get more ethical people in here.”

Valdez said he was also concerned with over regulation leading to the creation of a black market. He felt hesitance from the community could be overcome with adequate amounts of education and outreach about marijuana’s lack of dangers. 

“There’s so much land history, and so much growing history here,” Valdez sad.

He said he knew that many of the smaller growers were low income and was concerned if there was no assistance for small growers, large growers would push them out of the market.

Currently there are only a few banks in New Mexico that will work with the cannabis industry, and US Eagle Federal Credit Union was the only one offering business loans to the industry.

Serna compared that with banking in Colorado where there were banks that offered loans to established businesses but they often would not offer startup loans to cannabis businesses.

During the meeting Naranjo floated the topic of licenses that allow for consumption of marijuana products on location. None of the business owners present seemed excited by the proposal which is allowed by the state law but Serna said he could see a demand for events like concerts wanting a marijuana license.

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