[Editor's Note: This is part 3 and the final article of a multi-part series of articles on the Grant County Commission special meeting of July 20, 2021. This article includes a discussion on an ordinance for recreational cannabis restrictions.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
The first item of new business at the Grant County Commission special meeting on July 20, 2021 addressed the Chief Elected Officials Board.
District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce explained that "the board needs confirmation that you appointed me to the board. What's happened is that New Mexico changed the membership and is allowing only seven voting members, who will be county commissioners. New Mexico Counties decided that only seven members would represent rural areas in the southwest section. Mayors are no longer voting members. They can attend but may not vote. We voted in a new chair, which is Anita Hand of Catron County. The vice lead, I believe is from Sierra or Socorro County, somewhere in there. They want the commissioners to confirm or appoint someone. As the board of commissioners, you can vote in a mayor as the voting member. One thing I did not agree with is that the person on the board has to represent all the municipalities, too. So, I, as a member, met with the mayors of Santa Clara, Bayard and Hurley. I haven't had a chance to meet with (Silver City) Mayor (Ken) Ladner. The three mayors, Bauch, Fierro and Stevens, didn't have a problem with me representing them. If you reappoint me, I will try to have meetings with all the mayors to make sure I am letting them know what issues we are looking at and making sure that I am representing them all."
District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards said she didn't have a problem "reappointing you, but I would be more comfortable if you had met with Mayor Ladner first."
"I would have, too," Ponce said.
District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne said it made sense to him that Ladner "would totally get it, because if the person appointed has to represent all the municipalities and the unincorporated areas, it makes sense because our constituents live in all those areas."
County Manager Charlene Webb said it is technically the Chief Executive Officers Board, which is a part of the Workforce Development Board.
The commissioners approved the reappointment of Ponce to the Chief Executive Officials Board, which is a component of the Workforce Development board.
Ponce said he would talk to Ladner as soon as he could.
The next item on the agenda was a discussion and possible action regarding Section 12 (Local Control) of the Cannabis Regulation Act.
County Attorney Brad Springer, on contract with Grant County, explained via telephone that the act was 177 pages long and had a lot of parts to it. Section 12 provides a simplistic authority for the commissioners to develop time and place rules, among other things like distances from schools. "For consumption areas there are a lot of options for regulating marijuana. There are also some prohibitions of things that local governments cannot do, with a list of them. For instance, you cannot prohibit a licensee from operating. I want you to know that the Regulation and Licensing Division is encouraging local governments to at a minimum enact or determine a minimum distance between cannabis establishments and schools or day care centers in the community. However, the minimum distance established cannot be more than 300 feet. The second issue the division is pushing if you are going to enact a local control ordinance, the time is now, because Sept. 1 marks the opening day for producers to apply for their licenses. We don't know or I don't know yet how long the application process takes, but if you don't have your local control ordinance by that time, the licensee will be grandfathered in and cannot be forced to relocate. I don't know what your thoughts on moving forward with an ordinance, whether more restrictive or less restrictive."
Springer said he had sent a lot of information to the commissioners. "For example, Santa Fe County has already drafted its ordinance. There are a number of things to take into account. One option I thought of, is as I am prepared to draft an ordinance, I would appreciate some guidance on what direction you think you would like to go in term of highly restrictive or minimally so. My suggestion is to address it sooner rather than later." He said he didn't know how long the process takes from the time of application to produce until it is approved, but he believes the effective date for the licensee would be the date for grandfathering a producer.
District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas asked if the ordinance is just for licenses to grow or for usage.
Springer replied that Sept. 1 is the date of application for producers and micro-producers. The application date for consumption areas and retailers is January 2022.
Edwards read from the letter Springer sent them saying that given the time to draft, hold hearings and such on ordinances, counties may face grandfathering in the early applicants. "So, if we pass something in our September meeting, if someone applies on Sept. 1, they will be grandfathered in or do you think because they won't be approved by the time we have the meeting, it will be alright."
Springer said it was his feeling that it was the issuance of the license that would be the effective date. "But I don't know that for sure, because the issue has not been addressed in this state."
Edwards suggested doing a "timely moratorium to avoid that."
Springer said it was an option, but there are mixed feelings among the attorney's affiliate that it might violate state law or "you might lose some people. The precise issue has not been addressed by the courts."
Edwards asked if the right things were in place in the comprehensive plan or would it need to be amended. Springer said he did not believe that the plan needed to be amended.
Browne noted that municipalities can also impose restrictions.
Springer agreed and said the municipalities have more complex decisions to make, although they might have ordinances on things like alcohol and smoking that might be in alignment with restrictions for marijuana.
Browne said it is up to the commission to impose minimum distances from schools for producing or using at no more than 300 feet. "If we don't act is there no state minimum?"
Springer said he would research and would determine whether distances for alcohol, for example, would be governed by state law for cannabis, but the department has said that local governments must determine distances between cannabis establishments and schools.
Edwards asked about regulating air quality around production facilities.
Springer said the Clean Indoor Act and other standards could be used.
"Would we want to follow the strictest laws on the books?" Edwards asked.
Springer said the Santa Fe County draft ordinance has standards for air quality.
More discussion went around in circles about a moratorium and whether it was defensible or not, and Springer finally said with the drafting of the ordinance and the hearing requirements, it would be at least six weeks until the ordinance was in place. In the end, he did not recommend a moratorium, because he thinks it might conflict with the law.
Webb said she and Springer were on a call about the issue the previous week and it all depends, according to every attorney. They said: "We just don't know."
Browne asked to take a moratorium off the table and asked Springer to draft an ordinance.
Springer said he could have it within a week or so. Ponce, to laughter, said: "The meeting might still be going on."
Browne reiterated the issues as the distance from schools, the air quality/odor issues and smoking marijuana outdoors.
As it was Webb's last meeting Ponce said to her: "This was all staged to keep you here longer."
Billings said to Webb: "You taught me a lot. I think the staff will miss you."
Salas said what he respected the most about Webb was: "You have kept us compliant."
Browne said to Webb "I really appreciate your professionalism. Good luck in Sierra County, and if you see any potential for collaboration, please let us know."
Edwards said: "Thank you. We are really going to miss you."
No one had commissioners' reports, and they went directly into executive session to discuss limited personnel matters regarding the county manager. The chair told the Beat he did not expect any action to be taken following the executive session.