The controversial package of proposed zoning amendments authored by Mayor Tim Keller’s office that would have blocked cannabis companies from opening stores in Nob Hill was quickly amended following public outcry. City Council is reviewing several proposals.

The initial proposal to amend the city’s regulations governing land development and use of property, the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO), would have kept marijuana businesses—both medical and recreational—from operating within 660 feet of main street areas.

According to the city, “main streets” are designated areas that are “characterized by linear development along a pedestrian-friendly street, typically emphasizing small and local retail and office uses.” Some prominent main street areas in Albuquerque include parts of Broadway Boulevard, Fourth Street, San Pedro, Isleta Boulevard and Central Avenue. That would have kept cannabis businesses from the most sought-after areas of town, including Downtown and Nob Hill.

As we reported last week, the mayor’s office walked back the portion of the proposed amendments that referred to the main street designation, making much of the areas in Nob Hill open to cannabis businesses under the proposed changes, even if other restrictive proposed zoning amendments are implemented.

The discussion is far from over, though. The proposed IDO amendments pertaining to cannabis companies rubbed a lot of members of the community the wrong way, but there’s still time for city leaders to adjust course. In an email, spokesperson for the Mayor’s office Babaak Parcham told us that this is a natural part of the process. “The IDO process, within the [City] Council’s purview, happens once a year. And we submitted a proposal based on best practices from around the country as a starting place,” he wrote. “We’re glad that ideas are being shared and solutions reached on key questions regarding implementation and zoning. The process of figuring out zoning for this new industry is not unusual. Skipping public input or a smart urban planning process, however, would be out of the ordinary.”

Regarding accusations that the proposed zoning amendments could negatively impact marginalized communities, Parcham wrote, “Our zoning proposal seeks to prevent a high concentration of cannabis retail that could disproportionately affect communities of color and historic neighborhoods.”

Last week the City Council spent nearly 45 minutes debating over how far back to push a meeting where they will debate the actual IDO update, ultimately deciding to hold a special meeting on June 17. According to a press release, the main focus of that meeting will be marijuana zoning.

“While the State Legislature established a licensing and industry structure through the Cannabis Regulation Act,” wrote the release’s author, “it is the job of local government to determine where it would be most appropriate for those licenses and that industry to operate within the city, and under what limitations to best preserve the character of special places and ensure compatibility with surrounding areas and community goals.”

We’ll just have to wait to see how the Mayor’s Office and the City Council ultimately respond to the community’s concerns.

“Marijuana Poisoning” Real?

Local Albuquerque news outlet KOB recently ran a fear-mongering piece claiming that “marijuana poisoning” has been on the rise in recent years. The report failed to explain what marijuana poisoning is—or, rather, isn’t.

According to the report, the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center averaged about 70 calls related to marijuana consumption between 2014 and 2016. Between 2017 and 2018, the calls reportedly doubled. And in 2020, the center received 168 calls.

This sounds terrifying, especially when you factor in the reportedly increasing number of children being “poisoned” by cannabis. The only problem is that cannabis isn’t really a poison, and calling it one is disingenuous.

According to the World Health Organization, the LD50 THC (the lethal dose of a drug for half the subjects being dosed) was 800 mg per kg in rats, up to 3000 mg per kg in dogs and up to 9000 mg per kg in monkeys. The estimated lethal dose in a 154-pound human is approximately 4 grams of pure THC. “Such a dose could not be realistically achieved in a human following oral consumption, smoking or vaporizing the substance,” wrote WHO. Your average gram of medical cannabis in New Mexico contains between 100 and 300 mg of THC.

So what exactly is meant by “marijuana poisoning” in the context of calls to the state’s Poison and Drug Information Center? According to KOB, “a dose of anything that is too high could be considered a poison.” The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say that, “The signs of using too much marijuana are similar to the typical effects of using marijuana, but more severe. These signs may include extreme confusion, anxiety, paranoia, panic, fast heart rate, delusions or hallucinations, increased blood pressure and severe nausea or vomiting.”

Does that mean cannabis is totally safe and never has deleterious effects? Of course not. It just means that a fatal overdose would be nearly impossible to achieve. The negative effects of taking “too much” cannabis are generally limited to subjective experiences of finding the psychoactive element of a session unpleasant.

But there is an issue when it comes to children who have far lower mass and experience more powerful effects than adults. KOB interviewed Dr. Susan Smolinske, director of the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center, about the rise in marijuana poisoning calls, and she raised the very real issue of children gaining access to edibles. “These need to be treated as medications and kept out of reach and locked up away from the kids,” Dr. Smolinske told a reporter. “We had four severe cases last year, and children aged one to two who needed a ventilator.” It’s unclear what those children were suffering from, specifically.

This is a very real problem, but labeling marijuana with a loaded term like “poison” is incredibly irresponsible when the city is in the midst of discussing whether to block cannabis companies from operating in the same areas as others. Instead, focusing on informing consumers of the dangers of allowing children to have access to cannabis and making these products less attractive to them are where this conversation needs to go from here.