Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Weekly Canna: Zoning Plan Stirs the Pot

Pot Producers Concerned Over Proposed Zoning Changes


As New Mexico prepares for legalization, the leaders of the state’s largest city are already showing some reluctance in welcoming the new industry.

Last week Albuquerque City Councilor Trudy Jones proposed limiting where cannabis can be sold in the city. The proposed zoning amendment, drafted by Mayor Tim Keller's office, would give the city the freedom to ban cannabis dispensaries from operating too close to main streets, neighborhoods and other areas. The proposal would also limit how cannabis companies can display signage.

But local cannabis producers are concerned that the proposed amendment could harm small businesses, set a bad precedent for other cities looking to keep recreational marijuana sales from gaining a foothold and even endanger consumers.

“We are worried that the zoning requirements being proposed by the mayor will force cannabis shops and their patrons into the back alleys—something advocates and activists have been fighting tirelessly to avoid,” said Purlife CEO Darren White. “We are hopeful after talking with the administration that a compromise can be reached to address their concerns.”

The mayor’s proposed change to the current zoning rules—which does not distinguish between medical cannabis and recreational dispensaries—would bar marijuana businesses from operating within 660 feet from areas with a “main street” designation and 300 feet from residential areas, schools, daycares and churches. Dispensaries would also be restricted to operating between the hours of 7am and 10pm—that includes accepting deliveries as well as conducting transactions. Businesses would also be required to place “21 and over” signs in a prominent area and would be barred from including images of cannabis leaves on any signage.

CEO of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce Ben Lewinger said, “The proposed amendments to the IDO relating to zoning and signage seem rushed and premature. While we appreciate the city’s desire to prepare for adult use, the proposals would take us backwards in the stigmatization of cannabis and unfairly target existing and new businesses trying to break ground in this new, legal industry. The whole state is watching, and the opportunity here is for Albuquerque to look into the future, instead of looking at regs from other states from several years ago when legal cannabis was in its infancy. We simply cannot afford bad, misintentioned policy.”

A questionnaire from the city has been set up at bit.ly/3fFLvzn for residents to leave comments on the proposal.

New Rules

The state is moving right along with its rollout of the recreational cannabis market. The Cannabis Control Division released its first draft of rules for recreational cannabis sales last week.

The proposed rules address a number of concerns that have been voiced by potential cannabis entrepreneurs. The lengthy document dedicates a number of pages to licensing requirements that have been somewhat nebulous until this point. According to the proposed rules, cannabis business licensees will have to prove that they own the land on which they want to operate, prove that they own the water rights for that land, provide detailed plans for their facility—including layout diagrams—prove that they are in good standing with the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, provide a plan to use energy and water reduction opportunities, provide a detailed criminal background of the applicant and any controlling persons, the initial number of mature plants that will be on the site and a summary of the operations and products that will be sold along with a number of required certifications.

The proposal also addresses plant limits for producers—a controversial topic of discussion. The new system would implement three levels of producers with associated limits: Level 1 producers will be those that grow 201 to 2,500 mature plants; Level 2 producers will grow 2,501 to 3,000 plants; and Level 3 producers will be allowed to grow 3,501 to 4,500 plants. The rules state that, “In no event shall a licensee be permitted to grow more than 4,500 mature cannabis plants at one time.”

The division will be accepting public comments on the new rules through June 29—when it will hold a special hearing to discuss the proposal. The hearing will address the processing, approval and denial of license applications, plant limits, space requirements for the different license types and per-plant fees for licensees growing more than 200 plants. The hearing will be held online.

The state has a deadline of Sept. 1 to start handing out producer licenses.

Health Official Slams Federal Barriers to Research

Last week a leading U.S. health official told the Senate Committee on Appropriations that psychedelic drugs could prove “beneficial” to humanity. He also criticized federal limitations on cannabis research.

During the hearing Sen. Brian Schatz (D-H.I.) asked Director of the National Institutes of Health Francis Collins for an update on efforts to research psychedelic drugs to treat mental health illnesses. “There has been a number of potentially promising peer-reviewed clinical research on this topic. Can you give me an update on what the next steps may be?”

“I think, as we’ve learned more about how the brain works, we’ve begun to realize that these are potential tools for research purposes and might be clinically beneficial,” answered Collins. “I’ll just mention one, which is psilocybin, which has now been tried in no less than three randomized controlled trials for depression and is showing a signal there of potential interest. … But there are other trials going on with MDMA, even with LSD. I think, at the moment, it’s the psilocybin that’s gotten the greatest attention.”

Collins said his agency was working with the Drug Abuse Institute and the Mental Health Institute about developing a workshop to design the next generation of clinical trials. “Over the course of the next year, we’re going to want to have a hard look at this,” he said.

Schatz went on to ask if the agency was making progress in overcoming obstacles to researching medical cannabis. Collins sighed before responding. “In the past,” he said, “researchers who wanted to do a clinical study had all kinds of limitations. … The DEA has now given permission to expand the number of suppliers and that will help, but frankly what we really need is to moderate the Schedule I limitation.” He mentioned a proposed “Schedule I-R,” which would give researchers a different pathway to research the drug.


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