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By Fred Hashimoto

Corrales, a Cannabis Capital?

 Four years ago, Verdes Foundation, a regional cannabis business, proposed growing medical cannabis on four acres in a Corrales A-1 zone.  The neighborhood was upset, citing issues of decreased quality of life and decreased property values.  Over 300 signatures were obtained on a petition opposing the proposal and the neighbors hired an attorney to help with their efforts.  Verdes decided to back out, in part because of stiff neighborhood opposition and also, they did not have Village Council support. In 2018, the council passed Ordinance 18-002 explicitly banning cannabis growing (along with manufacture and distribution) in A-1 and A-2 zones.

Since then, commercial cannabis growing has generally become more intensive and, in some ways, more invasive. Thousands of plants can be grown in an intensive greenhouse, converted warehouse or other totally enclosed structure with 24-hour high-intensity grow lights in tightly controlled environments and accelerated harvesting.  These commercial cannabis structures are water and electricity ultra-consumers.

Growing cannabis emits a pungent, skunky odor, which neighbors do not like. Ask the residents in the Corrales del Norte subdivision which abuts medical cannabis greenhouses in the north end of the village. Some neighbors smell the odor from 1,000 feet away.  Googling “cannabis growing odor” yields over 10 million results. Because of the monetary value of cannabis products, many intensive growing structures get burglarized.  Security walls and fences and barbed wire, barred windows and security lights are common.  Also, the growing structures themselves are usually not aesthetically pleasing.

Although one might like cannabis products (and/or beer), one would not like to live next to an intensive cannabis growing structure (or a brewery). Choosing to buy a house next to such a structure is one thing, but living in a home for 25 years and suddenly having one show up next door is quite another. For several years, all was well enough with Corrales and its stance on cannabis until early this year when the State Legislature passed its cannabis act (House Bill 2).  Yes, it legalized recreational cannabis consumption and allowed the personal and household growing of six and 12 plants respectively.

However, perhaps inadvertently, it might have superseded Corrales’s ordinance banning commercial cannabis growing on A-1 and A-2 because it considered cannabis as a usual crop and usual crops can be grown in agriculture zones (A-1, A-2 and Neighborhood Commercial) in the village.  Needless to say, usual crops are not grown intensively in enclosed facilities with 24-7 grow lights and greenhouses with massive wet-walls (wall-sized swamp coolers) or have pages of State and local regulations and specific licensing.

Not only might cannabis be grown commercially in an agriculture zone in Corrales, but a grower won’t need several acres to do it. Your neighbor can grow it commercially in the backyard of his one-acre lot.  For sure, your current friendly neighbors wouldn’t think of doing that, but when they move, the new neighbors very well might feel differently. They might think, “Hey, I spent a lot of money getting some extra land in Corrales so I might as well build a few extra structures in the back and grow cannabis to help defray the cost.” 

If they do, you currently have little or no recourse.  In Colorado, commercial cannabis growing structures are generally isolated to industrial zones or to land with plenty of acreage, but alas, this does not seem to be the case in Corrales.

At this time, very few residents have any inkling or idea of what has quickly befallen us. Do you think potential commercial growers are interested? In the first few hours after the State began accepting growing applications, almost 400 companies lined up. A legislator and a State official from the State Cannabis Control Division have said that the State will not do neighborhood regulating, which will be up to the local governments.

Last month, the Village Council passed an ordinance which seems to bend over backwards being permissive for the cannabis industry, allowing intensive commercial growing in A-1, A-2, and Neighborhood-Commercial zones, miniscule setbacks of 25 feet and only 200 feet between retail stores in the commercial district.  Nuisance laws have been softened by using the hedge modifier “reasonably” so if a grower is “reasonably” conducting business and causing a noxious odor (or noise or lighting), that can’t be considered a nuisance.

Those council proceedings were orchestrated by attorneys. It was a hard sell, doom and gloom if you don’t pass it tonight, back against the wall and deadline. The pressure was palpable.  Considerations were deflected by “this should be researched later.”  Attorneys said that there had been three revisions already, but each of these revisions were only for non-substantive, attorney tweaking.  Suggestions by the councilors —such as increased setbacks in the residential neighborhoods— were not incorporated. Usually, three council meetings are used to pass an ordinance; this ordinance was fast-tracked in only two meetings.

Yes, the ordinance was passed (not unanimously) by Village Council.  But don’t blame them.  They were pressured big time and given little time to get facts and input.  I (a former councillor) perhaps would have voted for it too.  When you sit at the table, and attorneys say that you have to pass it now, that is significant pressure.

Some councillors probably would like to amend this hurriedly-passed ordinance; they have ideas on how to give residential neighborhoods some protections from intensive growing structures next door.  At the council meeting, the attorneys said that the ordinance was a dynamic document and it can be amended when appropriate; we’ll see.  Hopefully, the governing body will keep it moving and not necessarily delay critical amendments.  Other farming states of Colorado, Oregon and Washington have measures protecting residential neighborhoods from intensive and invasive cannabis structures.  Why can’t we?

Yes, the cannabis industry can bring some revenue into the Village coffers, but at what price?  Residential neighborhoods should not be paying a price with a decrease in quality of life and decrease in property values.

Perhaps, the Village is at a tipping point. How Corrales deals with cannabis and, specifically, this ordinance might define it for the future.  It can put a different slant on our Harvest Festival.  Harvesting intensively grown cannabis occurs several times a year, not necessarily only in the fall as it does for usual crops. Hopefully, Corrales will make the right decisions, and not become known as a Cannabis Capital.

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