In coming weeks, the Village Council is expected to amend its ordinance regulating the growing of marijuana —and to urge the N.M. Legislature to amend State law as well. Intense discussion on the Village’s ordinance came at the September 14 council meeting, and more is expected at the September 28 session. Councilors are responding to constituents’ concerns that the local ordinances leaves homeowners too vulnerable to factory-scale cannabis cultivation in areas designated for residential.
A weakness in Corrales’ land use regulations is that those residential areas are identified in law as agricultural-residential, and marijuana crops would qualify as agriculture. A second problem is that Corrales has no alternative land use zoning category, such as one for light industry, to which any proposal for intensive cannabis growing could be directed.
Village Attorney Randy Autio advised the mayor and council at their September 14 meeting that, as Corrales’ law and land use plan exist now, any attempt to block or obstruct large-scale marijuana growing here would almost surely face a lawsuit.
Mayor Roake, a lawyer, concurred. “We will be sued and we will lose.”
But some councilors said the Village shouldn’t be deterred by such a threat, arguing that it is more important to protect residents here than to be intimidated by possible legal action.
Councilors indicated they are likely to address residents’ concerns about negative impacts from large-scale cannabis growing and processing by requiring that such operations have much greater set-backs from residences.
Although some councilors wanted to impose a moratorium on marijuana-growing permit applications, Autio advised the Village legally cannot do that.
On the other hand, the attorney pushed back on the notion that Corrales is particularly at risk for being overrun by cannabis businesses. “We have a couple of things in our favor,” he said.
Land in Corrales is expensive, and therefore not optimal for any agricultural venture. Furthermore, we don’t have a municipal water system and we don’t have many large commercial buildings. “We are not going to be the popular choice for growing marijuana,” Autio said. “Corrales is not a likely place for marijuana growers to target.”
But they already have, some would argue, pointing to the greenhouse complex operated by Spencer Komadina in the Corrales del Norte neighborhood at the north end of the valley.
At least four villagers have weighed in on the need for tighter restrictions on cannabis operations based on their experience with the Komadina operation.
They took issue, as did residents in other parts of the Village, that marijuana growing should be treated no differently than any other crop.
In his remarks to the council, former Village Councilor Fred Hashimoto said comparing marijuana-growing to just the same as any other crop is ridiculous —and if State statutes insist on that, the statute is ridiculous as well.
“To consider cannabis as a regular crop plant is ludicrous. It’s much different than other crop plants,” he said , because “a pound of it in New Mexico sells for up to $4,500. Second, it’s frequently grown intensively in enclosed structures, which have 24-7 operations requiring huge amounts of water and electricity and high security measures such as fences, wires, lights and window bars;
“Third, in New Mexico, the regulation of cannabis businesses covers pages and pages of rules, regulations, certifications and licensures, and fourth, New Mexico limits me to growing only six plants in my backyard; it doesn’t limit me to only six chile plants or six stalks of corn.”
And finally, Hashimoto reminded, “the Village has recognized cannabis-specific issues.” The Village ordinance states “‘Whereas, the Village finds that high-yield crop raising, often referred to as ‘intensive agriculture,’ is common practice with cannabis production and has potential adverse impacts, such as increased discharge of pollutants and light or odoriferous nuisances, on the Village if not properly regulated.…’”
“Yes, the Village has already put some special restrictions on intensive grow structures such as increased setbacks —which are most insufficient for cannabis— and HVAC [ventilation] adaptations and noise restrictions specifically for cannabis grow structures.
“Unfortunately, the Village’s current regulations are inadequate and do almost zero to protect residential neighborhoods from the invasiveness of intensive cannabis growing, which was alluded to in its own ‘whereas.’
“Municipalities and counties in many states have setbacks up to 1,000 feet for cannabis grow structures from residential property lines. Corrales says, ‘25 feet.’”
Hashimoto argued that establishing more restrictive setbacks for cannabis operations in residential neighborhoods can survive any legal challenge. “Such setback restrictions are not prohibiting use; they allow, but set limits.
“Attorneys might say, the Village can get sued if it steps out too far. Really, the Village can get sued if it does or it doesn’t. Other municipalities and counties are protective of their residential neighborhoods. Corrales isn’t.”
The former council member contended that, unlike some other municipalities that might want to control cannabis operations, Corrales could withstand a lawsuit asserting it had acted capriciously in enacting tighter restrictions.
“Case law doesn’t exist concerning growing recreational cannabis in New Mexico because that hasn’t even begun. Corrales would seem to be in a good position to defend a more protective stance for residential neighborhoods because of its pre-existing Ordinance 18-002, which banned cannabis cultivation, etc. in its residential A-1 and A-2 zones. Corrales would be acting most consistently with its well-documented cannabis stance and not capriciously.”
Among other concerns voiced, Pam Garfield said such marijuana farms could take up water needed for food crops here. “This year, irrigation water is already severely limited, so how will marijuana production affect water availability for food crops?”
As discussion drew to a close at the September 14 meeting, Councillor Stuart Murray warned that the Village should prepare to be sued no matter how it decides to proceed.
Councillor Zach Burkett said the cannabis issue has generated much more intense citizen involvement than any other since he has served on the council. In the face of potential lawsuits, he said, “I would err on the side of our duty to our constituents,” rather than to cannabis growers’ prerogatives.