|Graphic: ABC News|
Farmington, New Mexico has said it will quickly develop zoning regulations on medical marijuana during a six-month moratorium, but the State of New Mexico contends the city doesn’t have any authority to regulate.
The New Mexico Department of Health is the state agency tasked with regulating medical marijuana throughout the state, said spokeswoman Deborah Busemeyer, reports Steve Lynn at The Farmington Daily Times.
“It doesn’t appear as if local municipalities have any legal authority over the system,” Busemeyer said. “The state is in charge of approving producers and we will continue to do so as needed. The moratorium I don’t think would affect our decisions.”
Farmington city council members approved a moratorium on Tuesday on issuing business licenses and land-use approvals for medical marijuana producers. The decision came after nonprofit organization New Mexico Alternative Care contacted the city asking to locate a marijuana producing business in Farmington.
|NM Dept Health|
|Deborah Busemeyer, New Mexico Department of Health|
Busemeyer wouldn’t say if the Department of Health is processing the producer’s request, because the agency does not disclose names or exact locations of marijuana producers and applicants.
A law passed by the New Mexico Legislature in 2007 legalized medical marijuana. New Mexico has 17 licensed growers, six of whom were licensed last month.
Producers are not required to have a business license by the Department of Health, and the department has its own zoning requirements for facilities, according to Busemeyer.
“We don’t have any authority over Farmington issuing business permits,” Busemeyer said. “That’s their jurisdiction. Medical marijuana is our jurisdiction.”
But Farmington city officials claim the state law authorized cities to make rules.
City Attorney Jay Burnham said the moratorium was temporary until the city can change is zoning laws to allow for marijuana producers and “not for any other purpose.”
Burnham claimed the city isn’t going to change any codes to undermine state law regarding distances from facilities such as schools and churches.
“We’re not going to do anything that conflicts with state law,” Burnham said. “The reason we declared the moratorium is the city’s Unified Development Code does not address these, and we just wanted to amend the ordinance so that they can be allowed and just provide which zoning districts that they would be allowed in.”
Members of the city’s Unified Development Code Committee will meet in January to discuss medical marijuana zoning regulations, according to Mary Holton, Farmington’s Community Development director.
“All we’re doing is looking at it from a zoning aspect,” Holton said. “We are given authority by state statutes to zone.”
Regardless of where medical marijuana regulatory authority lies, San Juan County residents who rely on cannabis for treatment of their illnesses are caught in the middle.
For now, some patients are driving outside the county to buy medically marijuana legally from state-licensed producers — and some of them are buying it on the street.
“That’s dangerous, because you don’t know what it is,” said Kristina Sells, owner of New Mexico Green Light in Aztec, which connects patients to a doctor and a lawyer to ease their transition into medical marijuana. “The patients need to get their medications.”
Holton has said Farmington could take some time to update its codes, but that officials would “move as quickly as possible.”