August 16, 2022

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The Legal System

Editorial: ABQ should cut through legal haze, clarify pot-use rules

3 min read

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New Mexico’s parks and public spaces are getting greener these days with the arrival of spring temperatures. And it’s important we keep our parks from getting any greener with the hazy smoke of pot consumption permeating playgrounds as recreational marijuana sales are set to begin next month.

Parks and playgrounds are intended to be safe spaces for children, families and recreation — not getting high. Parents already on the lookout for discarded needles in our parks and ball fields shouldn’t have to also navigate strollers through circles of pot smokers on the way to the swing set.

But determining where cannabis consumption is allowed is proving a challenge for Albuquerque city leaders, who are split on whether state law is clear on the subject — or not. The Albuquerque City Council on Monday again tabled an ordinance intended to clear the air about pot smoking in public. The 5-3 vote pushes any decision to the April 4 meeting.

Pat Davis

At issue: The state’s Cannabis Regulation Act (passed by state lawmakers in a two-day special session in March 2021 called by the governor for that express purpose) permits the public consumption of cannabis in designated areas of licensed marijuana dispensaries, and only under certain conditions. City Councilor Pat Davis, a proponent of recreational cannabis who helped draft the state law and a former police officer, told the Journal fellow Councilor Trudy Jones’ amendment to the city’s Clean Indoor Air Ordinance is unnecessary. The new act says nothing in the law “shall be construed to: (1) allow a person to smoke cannabis products in a public place, except in a cannabis consumption area. …” Davis points out that state law supersedes city ordinances, and that the law makes it clear public consumption of cannabis is only allowed in designated areas of dispensaries.

Trudy Jones

OK, but the state law doesn’t expressly prohibit the public consumption of marijuana in public spaces such as in parks or along streets and sidewalks. And people being people, it is not a stretch to imagine many testing the limits in an exercise of “the law doesn’t say I can’t smoke pot here.”

Council Services Director Chris Melendrez, an attorney, told the Journal that Jones’ amendment is intended as a backstop to prevent consumption in public spaces and isn’t inconsistent with the state law. He says the language in the state law allowing cannabis consumption areas at pot dispensaries doesn’t carry the same punch as prohibiting consumption in public spaces. “If the act doesn’t take care of it, then the council could take care of it at the city level,” Melendrez said. “All (the council would be) doing is reinforcing what the act does.”

Jones adds: “I think a law is a law is a law. And if we’re going to allow public consumption of cannabis, we’d better be careful how we do it.”

She’s right.

The confusion about the need to amend the city’s Clean Indoor Air Ordinance to include the regulation of cannabis smoke demonstrates the uncertainty and trepidation about how our state will look after April 1. The city ordinance may not be needed, but Melendrez makes sense — further definition of where cannabis products are prohibited is a backstop, and the city can start the education process by posting signs at all city parks and public gathering locations informing the public that consumption of cannabis in these spaces is prohibited — just like alcohol.

Louie Sanchez

As City Councilor Louie Sanchez, a retired Albuquerque police officer, says “it’s about safety, it’s about doing the right thing — for not only just the cannabis distributors but also for people who use cannabis.”

And for those who do not. The city has a responsibility to help make the new law perfectly clear to everyone, and then to enforce it.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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