SUNLAND PARK — Councilors amended Sunland Park’s cannabis ordinance on Tuesday evening, reducing the minimum distance between dispensaries and schools or daycare centers and clearing the way for drive-through shopping at licensed outlets.
Councilors also rejected a proposal to allow dispensaries to operate up to 24 hours a day, after hearing numerous objections, expressed in English and Spanish, from residents, the city’s police department and even from a dispensary owner.
Intertwined with El Paso, Sunland Park borders Texas, where cannabis remains illegal except for limited medical purposes. New Mexico legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older last year, and commercial sales regulated by a new state agency opened on April 1. Dispensaries near the Texas line are positioned to take advantage of the ban in the neighboring state.
Cannabis sales at Sunland Park totaled nearly $1.5 million in May, including $1.3 million of cannabis for adult use, which is subject to gross receipts tax. That revenue showed a slight increase from April, when city dispensaries reported total sales of $1.4 million, including $1.18 million for non-medicinal products.
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The state law legalizing cannabis and regulating commercial sales allows municipalities to establish local zoning rules and establish hours of operation, but prohibits them from banning cannabis sales altogether.
Councilors removed the 24-hour proposal from Tuesday night’s motion, leaving current rules in place allowing dispensaries to operate between 7 a.m. and midnight Monday-Saturday and 8 a.m.-midnight on Sunday.
If councilors had approved, Sunland Park would have joined Las Cruces in allowing adult cannabis sales at all times of the day, while most major cities have set maximum hours of operation similar to regulations on bars.
Mayor Pro Tem Olga Nuñez, who chaired the meeting due to the absence of Mayor Javier Perea, voiced support for previous police department recommendations that dispensaries should close as early as 11 p.m., to separate the hours of closure of dispensaries and bars serving alcohol.
Councilors acknowledged public safety issues while seeking to make room for New Mexico’s emerging cannabis industry. Many comments expressed skepticism about the legalization of cannabis in the first place, while two residents revealed that the medical use of cannabis had helped them break their previous addictions to narcotics.
Over the course of an hour, public comments frequently compared cannabis retail stores to establishments where alcoholic beverages are consumed. However, cannabis – like alcohol – can only be consumed in licensed consumption lounges.
Several commentators, including representatives from local homeowners associations, expressed concern about the existing strains on the Sunland Park Police Department and the possibility of break-ins and burglaries at dispensaries.
Calling for more time and data before making any changes, resident Javier Murillo said: “What I see is a city that wants to take giant leaps into uncharted waters.”
Three High Horse Cannabis Co. executives spoke out in favor of easing restrictions, while Michael Silver, founder and CEO of cannabis dispensary chain Pinnacle Emporium, expressed support for mandatory closing hours and is opposed to changing the required distance from schools and daycare centers after some companies had already made investments.
“How am I supposed to protect my staff at 3 a.m. if I have an open and ongoing operation with a police force that is stretched to begin with?” he asked rhetorically.
Gadsden Independent School District Superintendent Travis Dempsey and School Board Chair Laura Salazar Flores have spoken out against a proposal to reduce the buffer zone from 300 feet to 100 feet. Dempsey said the 300-foot maximum distance allowed by law is “a safety limit that will help restrict access for students, maintain workplace safety standards for staff, and minimize potential liability for government entities.” “.
Councilors eventually amended the proposal and unanimously approved 200 feet.
Finally, the revised ordinance provides for special use permits allowing licensed retailers to conduct operations from modular buildings on commercial zoned property while a permanent building is under construction.