Corrales’ first, and so far only, legal marijuana retail outlet has been open more than a month at the corner of Corrales Road and Rincon Road. Operated by Southwest Organic Producers (SWOP), it sells only medical cannabis to patients with a prescription. But next year, the site may also sell recreational pot. “We look foward to the future of cannabis, and the changes that will come with recreational approval next year,” SWOP’s northern regional manager, Sheena Brogdon said in an email to Corrales Comment July 2. She said her firm “is excited to be the first dispensary in Corrales. At SWOP, we focus on meeting our medical patients’ needs through a variety of products. “We carry a little bit of everything: tinctures, edibles, concentrates and flower. Our specialty is our locally grown cannabis, from our farm right here in Corrales.”
For months, signs announcing the dispensary would be “coming soon” were posted roadside and on a banner hung from the old building that some villagers had known as the Kim Jew Photography Studio. Before that, it housed a restaurant, a massage clinic and other short-lived enterprises. Today, the east part of the building is a flower shop.
Although Brogdon did not specify where in Corrales the marijuana is grown, one of the SWOP partners is Spencer Komadina, who is growing in large greenhouses at the north end of Corrales. SWOP was started by Corrales’ Tom Murray in 2009, and its products all were grown from 450 plants on his three acres here. The interest by New Mexicans in medical cannabis continues to grow. As of May 31, 2020, New Mexico had 94,042 registered Medical Cannabis Program card holders, with Sandoval County at 6,514, and Bernalillo, 30,562. By November 30, 2020, 101,770 patients were registered, 7,281 in Sandoval County, and 33,976 in Bernalillo County. With legal recreational marijuana right around the corner, more than a few Corrales landowners are eying prospects for cannabis cultivation. What changes lie ahead for Corrales as these developments unfold? (See Corrales Comment Vol. XXXVI No.23 2018 “Have a Look At Bernalillo’s Huge Marijuana Operation.”)
Corrales’ ordinance regulating marijuana cultivation came under careful scrutiny back in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
The mayor and Village Council held a work-study session with Village Attorney Charles Garcia prior to their February 12, 2018 meeting that addressed marijuana cultivation and sale. Councillors heard a presentation on recommendations to amend Ordinance 18-002 regulating the cultivation of cannabis. According to Garcia, the new language would remove an inconsistency between the Corrales law’s Sections 1-4 and Section 5, which could leave the Village vulnerable to a court challenge. Section 5 essentially banned any cannabis cultivation, processing or distribution of pot as long as federal law deemed it illegal.
A last-minute amendment to the law approved by the council in January 2018 stated, “Therefore, nothing in this ordinance authorizes any marijuana cultivation or use under any state law or local ordinance, nor shall any building permits or planning and zoning approvals or any other authorization issue for any such activity in this village until the federal law no longer makes such activity a federal crime.” After the amendment was added, the council voted on the finalized ordinance. The decision to approve Ordinance 18-002 was met with a round of applause from the crowded room. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXVI No. 24 February 10, 2018 “Cannabis Ordinance Allows Crop Only in C-Zone.”) But Village Attorney Garcia told the mayor and council that that wording was inconsistent with provisions in the earlier sections. “It contradicts Sections 1 through 4,” the attorney said flatly. Back in 2018, some urgency was injected by Mayor Jo Anne Roake’s observation that the Village Office had been fielding frequent inquiries about prospects for starting cannabis growing operations in Corrales. “We’re getting daily inquiries and interest expressed about cannabis growing here,” the mayor pointed out.
Back then, the council’s biggest opponent to a local ordinance that would allow marijuana cultivation is Councillor George Wright. He had consistently stated that when he was sworn in as a member of Corrales governing body, he took an oath affirming he would uphold the U.S. Constitution, which declares that federal law is superior to state or local laws. “Federal law is supreme,” he pointed out, and so far, cannabis is considered an illegal narcotic. Wright declined to seek another tem on the council. In November 2017, the Village Council held a work-study session with a representative from the agency within the N.M. Department of Health that regulates use of medical marijuana, as well as with a state licensed grower in Corrales.
Three officials from the N.M. Department of Health addressed a council-P&Z work-study session October 24, 2017. The Village Council passed a 90-day moratorium the previous month on new applications from medical cannabis growers. The resulting law did not ban marijuana for medical use outright, but specified areas of the community that might be appropriate for that use. At the work-study session, the Health Department’s (DOH) public information officer, Kenny Vigil clarified that the agency’s rules do not require any particular height for perimeter fences around cannabis sites, nor that the plants must be grown indoors. “We approved an outdoor grow earlier this year,” Vigil said. A total of 14,500 licensed marijuana plants were then being grown around the state. The product was sold at 60 authorized dispensaries and is tested at four laboratories under contract with the DOH.
Vigil pointed out that between 200 and 600 applications were received every day seeking permission to grow medical marijuana. At that time, New Mexico had approximately 49,000 medical cannabis users, about half of whom are registered as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That number is believed to have increased dramatically since fall 2017, to more than 60,000. The controversy took center stage in 2017 after an Albuquerque-based non-profit, The Verdes Foundation, purchased four acres of land at the north end of Corrales to grow cannabis for its marijuana dispensaries. Faced with opposition here, especially from homeowners who feared such disruptions as night time glare from grow lights and noxious fumes, Verdes last year halted attempts to start cultivation in Corrales and sold their acreage. (See Corrales Comment Vol. XXXVII No.17 November 10, 2018 “Cannabis Grower Verdes Pulls Out of Corrales.’)
The SWOP outlet has been a long time in coming. Although the site development plan application was approved by the Village Planning and Zoning Commission on November 20, 2019, assorted hoops required jumping through, or what P&Z Administrator Laurie Stout described soon thereafter as “applicable state and federal agencies on their specific requirements.” At that time, a long-time Corrales cannabis grower, Tom Murray, explained to P&Z prior to their positive ruling that he was “the first cannabis producer in Corrales, and one of the first four in New Mexico.” Murray emphasized the gross receipts coming to the Village via a retail outlet would be based on an estimated “$4.2 million of revenue that will originate through that point of sale and will include a good portion of customers outside of the village.” Back then, Spencer Komadina pointed out that the retail outlet here would likely involve three to four employees, with an office above the store front. He said “all manufactured products would be made outside Corrales by six extraction companies” the group works with.