Las Cruces Could Eliminate Some Distance Buffers For Cannabis Stores

LAS CRUCES — The city is proposing to eliminate the minimum required distances that a cannabis retailer must be from a single-family residential area and another cannabis retailer. Buffer distance requirements for schools and child care centers would remain in place.

At a meeting of the Las Cruces Planning and Zoning Commission on August 23, the council voted to forward the proposal to the Las Cruces City Council, which will have the final say on zoning code changes. The item is currently set to go to a council vote on Oct. 3, according to lead planner Katherine Harrison-Rogers.

Recreational cannabis sales to adults over 21 began on April 1, and a number of new cannabis retailers have opened in Las Cruces as a result.

The City of Las Cruces currently requires that every cannabis retailer and commercial micro-enterprise be separated by at least 300 feet. Retailers and commercial micro businesses, by code, must also be at least 300 feet from a single-family residential zone. These buffer distances can be reduced with a special use permit, which must be approved by the planning and zoning commission.

During the planning and zoning meeting, Harrison-Rogers presented some reasons to support the elimination of these two buffer rules.

Other similar uses, such as pharmacies and bars, are not subject to similar zoning rules. Some business owners expressed in meetings with city staff that they had trouble finding a location that complied with buffer rules, Harrison-Rogers said. Additionally, she said Codes Enforcement has yet to hear complaints about cannabis retailers that do not exist at any other retailer.

Sol Cannabis has opened on East Idaho Avenue in the former location of Si Bistro, an Italian restaurant and bakery.  The dispensary is pictured April 15, 2022 in Las Cruces.

The distance from the residential buffer zone limits where businesses can locate. Harrison-Rogers said an internal city analysis showed more than 1,000 commercial properties in Las Cruces exist within 300 feet of a single-family area.

“Several commercial corridors in the city adjoin single-family residential areas, unduly restricting the location of cannabis retailers,” city staff concluded in their submissions on the proposal.

Community Development Director Larry Nichols told the zoning board that the city still has about 20 cannabis businesses on standby, but buffer distances restrict where they can go.

“Most companies don’t build new facilities,” Nichols said. “They’re trying to find an existing building or structure to move into.”

The Sun-News reported on the trend of cannabis businesses trying to use existing vacant buildings to open their planned businesses. Sometimes it can be beneficial for cannabis businesses to locate in a space with existing access to water services, or sometimes a vacant structure can offset costs and save owners money to pay cannabis-related costs. Sometimes these buildings are located on land that is already properly zoned, and sometimes it can speed up the process of moving into an existing space, since business owners must have a location identified before applying for a state license.

Amber Sambrano, who works at Hashtag Cannabis, helps a customer.  She guessed that the new dispensary had over 100 clients at 3 p.m. on the day of its grand opening on 4/20 - April 20, 2022 in Las Cruces.

Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, told the Sun-News he supported eliminating these buffer distances despite the argument that it will increase competition between dispensaries. Lewinger thinks the industry’s competitiveness shouldn’t be a reason to artificially limit the number of cannabis businesses in the city.

“From an industry perspective, this is welcome competition,” Lewinger said. “This is a super competitive, highly regulated industry, and I think we’d be pollyannaish not to assume that a significant number of these new retail licenses will be out of business three years from now, just because it’s is the natural turnover of a whole new industry.

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Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, [email protected] Where @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.

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