Councilor Sean Williams: Regulating The Devil’s Lettuce

Los Alamos County Councilor

Cannabis is slated to come before the County Council again on Dec. 7 (though the Council calendar is always subject to change). The ordinance being considered is about land use regulation for retail sale of the devil’s lettuce—what zones it can be sold in, how close pot shops can be to each other, hours of operation, that sort of stuff. In preparation for that, Councilor Scott organized a town hall last Monday on the subject, and the public who attended overwhelmingly said that cannabis should not be heavily regulated.

So I figured I should write up my thoughts on cannabis retail.

There’s an interesting overarching question of what the regulatory regime should look like. There are existing and varied regulations on alcohol and tobacco. These regulations, I should point out, are not very strict. For example, we have two bars in Central Park Square (Bathtub Row and Boese Brothers), and we have two bars across Trinity from each other (Pajarito and Smith’s Marketplace). Code allows indoor smoking of tobacco in places where it makes sense—the VFW is the commonly cited example, but the code also allows cigar lounges.

I’ve never been a part of pot culture, but I’m cognizant of it. And I think that a cannabis regulatory regime should recognize that there is special history to the cultivation and consumption of cannabis.

With this in mind, the first issue to tackle is home business. As a general matter, home business has a special place in my heart in Los Alamos precisely because of the harshness of the commercial real estate market. This dovetails for me with the individualistic character that pot culture has developed, given the long history of harsh punishment for cannabis possession.

So while this would be a change from how alcohol and tobacco are regulated in Los Alamos, I believe home-based cannabis retail should be allowed with a Special Use Permit from the Planning and Zoning Commission. This would require prospective home-based businesses to make a case to P&Z that their proposed shop won’t disrupt their neighborhood, and would allow their neighbors to object in a formal setting—and any decision of P&Z would be subject to appeal, to County Council and then to district court. I think this is a fine compromise between home-based entrepreneurship and neighborhood preservation.

Another issue that’s been discussed is requiring 300’ between cannabis retailers. The easy way to implement this is to require 300’ between parcels, not storefronts, and the downtowns include a number of large commercial parcels. As I understand it, this restriction would mean that Central Park Square could only have one cannabis retailer, and no matter where it is in CPS, that shop would preclude a retailer from opening at CB Fox. The County doesn’t have a simple way of measuring distances between storefronts, so I see it as an unacceptable burden on county staff to ask them to drag a long measuring tape across parking lots—for a regulation that’s already of dubious value.

Finally, there’s a question of indoor smoking and smoke trespass. There are at least two cigar lounges in Santa Fe, and one of those lounges even shares a wall with a restaurant. Point being, smoke is manageable. Indoor smoking should be restricted to places where smoking is expected (e.g., private clubs and smoke shops), and those places should be required to manage the smoke their patrons produce, but experience shows that smoke trespass is an unconvincing reason to ban indoor smoking of cannabis.

I think the government should only restrict things if it has a good reason to do so. In this case, I’m left agreeing with the town hall attendees: there’s no compelling reason to heavily regulate cannabis retail. As usual, I encourage everyone who has a position on the devil’s lettuce—for or against—to email the Council, at