City officials come to loose consensus on cannabis charge
January 5, 2022
Tucumcari city commissioners came to a loose consensus Wednesday on a fee the city would charge to cannabis business applicants, but one Tucumcari resident who plans such a business signaled she would sue if it was implemented.
Commissioners during a second special work session to amend a flawed cannabis ordinance voiced a preference for a $400 fee for a cannabis license after consulting with an attorney who initially flagged the ordinance.
No action was taken; the next commission meeting will be Jan. 13.
Santa Fe attorney Jared Najjar, who first alerted city officials about the ordinance’s problems during a New Mexico Municipal League workshop, went over amendments to the ordinance with commissioners by teleconference Wednesday and during a previous work session last month. One section of the original ordinance inadvertently bans cannabis sales in Tucumcari.
Upon learning annual fees for regular business licenses range from $35 to $110 and liquor licenses $250, Najjar urged commissioners to not set a cannabis license fee more than $25 to $50 higher than the top level. He said any higher fee might be subject to a discrimination lawsuit.
“It shouldn’t be done as a way to raise revenue,” Najjar added.
Commissioner Ralph Moya and outgoing Mayor Pro Tem Todd Duplantis, who led the city’s cannabis task force, favored the $400 fee because cannabis businesses will require more zoning enforcement and work for the city clerk’s office. The $400 fee per license was roughly the same as discussed in previous meetings.
“There’s going to be a lot of stuff going on, and we don’t have enough staff now,” Duplantis said of the proposed fee.
Duplantis did not run for re-election and will be replaced by Mike Cherry this month.
Duplantis also noted cannabis applicants came up with roughly the same fee proposal during earlier meetings with city officials.
Commissioner Christopher Arias, noting Najjar’s recommendation on fees, proposed $300 for a cannabis license.
City Manager Mark Martinez concurred with Arias’ proposal. He said the city has the staff now for zoning enforcement, and even a higher fee “wouldn’t come close” to cover the expense of hiring another full-time officer.
Later in the meeting, commissioners were asked what fee — $350 or $400 — they preferred for a cannabis license.
Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield said she preferred $350, but was amenable to $400. She indicated if the higher amount posed a problem, commissioners could amend it.
Arias preferred $350. Moya and Duplantis advocated $400, though Duplantis said he would accept $350.
Commissioner Paul Villanueva was absent. He has missed the last few weeks of meetings.
Martinez said a cannabis business fee can be set by a resolution during one meeting.
Rachel Higdon, a Tucumcari resident sitting in the audience, commented to the commission the $400 fee amounted to a discrepancy compared to other business fees, and “it didn’t make sense to me.”
“It will be challenged, and I know the city would lose,” she said.
Higdon acknowledged after the meeting she and other investors were planning a cannabis business in Tucumcari.
Other amendments to the ordinance discussed by commissioners:
• On Najjar’s recommendation, it deleted a requirement of cannabis businesses being at least 300 feet from trade schools and universities.
Commissioners noted one cannabis business investor who wished to develop the Pow Wow West property on the city’s west side no longer would run afoul of the ordinance.
• A 150-foot rule between cannabis businesses was deleted.
• Regarding limiting the odor of cannabis, Najjar recommended language that businesses must use “odor-mediation technology.”
• Moya expressed concern about propane being used for cannabis extraction. Citing two propane fires at dispensaries in Santa Fe, he said particularly was worried about the historic downtown area being vulnerable to such fires.
Najjar advised against a ban of volatile solvents used in extraction but said the city can “bunch” such businesses into a certain zone for safety reasons. He said safety concerns are valid with such zoning.
City Clerk Anjelica Gray said the amended ordinance would be published as a legal notice in the current edition of the Quay County Sun. The commission can hold its first reading of the amended ordinance on Jan. 13, then a second reading Jan. 27 for final passage.
Commissioners learned during an earlier meeting in December about an apparent oversight by the current city attorney, Randall Van Vleck of Santa Fe, that disallowed any sort of legal cannabis sales in the city with the ordinance.
Van Vleck was not part of the work session Wednesday.
New Mexico officials have stated it wants recreational marijuana to be sold in the state no later than April 1, though the state approved its first licenses in mid-December. The Cannabis Control Division of the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department announced last week that final rules for cannabis manufacturers, retailers and couriers have gone into effect.