At a work-study session October 5, Mayor Jo Anne Roake and members of the Village Council considered recommendations from Village Attorney Randy Autio on how to offer homeowners more protection from intensive marijuana-growing operations without running afoul of State law. Those recommendations were not made available to Corrales Comment by the deadline for this issue. But based on the attorney’s earlier advice, greater protections from cannabis odors, ventilation fan noise and grow-lights could be possible by requiring wider set-backs from residents’ property lines.

Complaints about disturbances from already-existing cannabis operations in Corrales have been lodged with Village officials. The following came from a resident near the greenhouses in the Corrales del Norte neighborhood operated by Spencer Komadina: “It is 12:45 a.m. September 25, 2021. The stench from Komadina’s pot facility woke me up.” On October 2, the same neighbor reported “It’s 9:30 p.m. and it smells like a frat pot party down here. We have to keep our windows closed.” Mayor Roake seeks remedies that could withstand legal challenge if commercial pot growers claim their right to farm cannabis established in state statute is infringed.

Last month the mayor said “We know state legalization of cannabis is causing many communities, including Corrales, concern. Many people are not necessarily opposed to cannabis, but they don’t want it next to their residences. “This is hard to achieve in a community like ours which doesn’t have industrial zones, and is zoned almost entirely as ‘agricultural one acre’ (A-1) and ‘agricultural two acres’(A-2), but we’re working on it.” In coming weeks, the Village Council is expected to amend its ordinance regulating the growing of marijuana. The mayor and council will take public comment at their October 12 meeting before voting on amendments to Ordinance No. 21-06.

At the September 14 council meeting, the council heard from the Village Attorney but insisted they were inclined to face cannabis growers’ lawsuits if it comes to that. A big 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. Autio advised the mayor and council 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 councillors 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.

Councillors 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 councillors 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.

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 from any other crop. In his remarks to the council, former Village Councillor Fred Hashimoto said comparing marijuana-growing as just the same as any other crop is ridiculous. “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. 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.

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