LAS CRUCES – Across the street from New America Charter High School, you can purchase an alcoholic drink at Amador LIVE, and although anyone who can legally obtain prescription opioids at the pharmacy next door will not be able to purchase cannabis there , at the moment.
This is after the Las Cruces Planning and Zoning Commission lined up on Tuesday evening with concerned school officials, residents and city staff denying a request to allow Mesilla Valley Pharmacy to add cannabis to their range of healthcare products.
The pharmacy shares the wall space with the New America School. While it currently dispenses prescription drugs to eligible patients along with the sale of cannabidiol (CBD) products, the zoning commissioners decided at a public meeting on April 26 that the sale of legal THC-based products within the pharmacy it had gone too far, following arguments from concerned residents and school officials that there would be a negative effect on children.
Pharmacy representatives said their plan would be to sell cannabis only to legally qualified people: anyone over 21 in the state of New Mexico or anyone with a medical card. They noted that a rigorous security process would be in place that would prevent the sale of cannabis to minors, which included a separate and designated sales space for cannabis.
Pharmacy staff pointed out that they are mostly doctors and pharmacists, not dispensary owners looking to make a quick buck.
“What better person to run a pharmacists’ dispensary?” said Salma Tamez, a pharmacy technician at the company.
“We are not your ordinary dispensary,” said Trey Howard, one of the owners of the pharmacy and a pharmacist himself. “We are drug professionals … We are the ones who care for your parents, grandparents (and) children. We are not here to put anyone in harm’s way or at risk. We are only here to provide a higher level of service for a new industry. in our state “.
But a vocal group of detractors influenced the commission differently. They cited the dangers of cannabis use for young people and argued that allowing the sale of cannabis near the school would normalize its use in a negative way for the student population served by the school.
“No, (young people) can’t buy cannabis there, if I were to pass (the variance), that’s right,” said Jay Wisner, pastor of Calvary Chapel Las Cruces on Main Street. “But it’s there right next to them. I want you to think … would you like your child to be in a school with a cannabis distribution point right next to it with an injunction wall?”
Opponents also said that granting a 100 percent variation betrays the intent of the school buffer and puts the city on a “slippery slope.”
“The variance rule was adopted for safety reasons,” said Susie Kimble, president of the New America School Board of Directors and a candidate for the Doña Ana County Council of Commissioners. “So for all of you just ignore it … it’s wrong, and you’re setting a precedent, you really are, and it’s a slippery slope.”
“We are not against marijuana. We are not against selling,” Kimble said. “We just don’t want it to be sold on our back door.”
Many of the New America students are at high risk, Kimble said, which means they may face a greater risk for substance use.
Because Mesilla Valley Pharmacy falls within a 300-foot minimum buffer required by the city code to sell cannabis near a school, the company had requested a 100 percent variation in buffer distance, as the two buildings physically touch each other.
A 109-foot variation was approved by the zoning commission in February to welcome another cannabis business project to open near the New America School. That is located at 100 South Church Street, in the empty Casa de Alabanza building. But city staff recommended a refusal for the pharmacy, saying the change request was too extreme and would have too great an impact on the school next door.
Although the six commissioners voted unanimously to deny the variance, at times it seemed that some viewed blocking a thriving business as bad for the downtown area.
“I think there is perhaps a broader question here for the committee as to what the center should be,” said Commissioner Scott Kaiser. “The center, by definition, is the central business district … If a school decides to settle in the center, does that mean we drive everyone else out?”
“I remember a time when the city center was alive,” said Commissioner Enrico Smith. “When this school was founded downtown … there was practically nothing from a business point of view. As we now know, there are various bars, restaurants, cafes. It’s a business district, for the most part.”
While Smith said he wanted new and existing businesses to flourish downtown, he recognized the precedent that would be established by granting variance. In the end, he said he voted no because “the center is still a matter of families”.
Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be contacted at 575-202-3205, email@example.com or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.