By BRANDI ENGEMAN
On December 7th, Los Alamos County Council voted into place an ordinance on cannabis retail within the County limits.
The state law allows for small, home based, microbusinesses but Tuesday night, four members of the Los Alamos County Council voted on a highly restrictive local ordinance that effectively shuts down the idea of these integrated micro businesses operating in any residential areas. They used things like alcohol sales and the list of currently allowed home businesses to compare cannabis sales and back up their claims that our town shouldn’t support the idea of small home startups operating with a special use permit in residential areas.
This was an opportunity for several members of council to show this community that they are actually aware, concerned, and connected to the local community when we say, “we have a retail problem in town.” They could have chosen a progressive path forward by allowing these small home businesses to get their feet wet in a new, and potentially very profitable industry, at an incredibly low risk to those new entrepreneurs or the community. Instead, they fell back on stereotypes, excuses, “phantom constituents” and semantics to claim that there was no reason to allow this. After all, those who want to start a business have a lot of downtown space at low, low prices, they can rent, right?
The concerns I have now are for ALL our local, home based, retail business owners. Things like excessive traffic, noise, smell, and legality were all brought under discussion. One councilor claimed that the people they talked to didn’t want ANY businesses in their neighborhood; this decision has opened up all our small, home based business owners to potential harassment by the county or neighbors. If the concerns were not cannabis sales (which was repeated several times) but RETAIL sales in residential areas, all our neighbors who run a retail or customer-oriented business could come under fire regardless of the legality of their offerings.
I would also argue it is absolutely about cannabis and not retail. Replace “Sales from homes of jams and jellies” for “Sales from homes of cannabis related products” and you can see that the issue is the product being sold and the prejudice of councilors, and those they listened to outside of the town hall and meeting, against a substance that is as legal as alcohol in the state of New Mexico.
Finally, Thursday afternoon, a councilor who was called out during the meeting for quoting “phantom constituents” wrote an article discounting the concerns those of us voiced, stating: “Recognizing that public participation is generally low, I will continue to reach out to constituents throughout the county to gather broader input on contentious issues. I will continue to talk to neighbors, to engage individuals at restaurants and grocery stores and other establishments, and to contact friends and former coworkers. The more contentious the issue, the more constituents I will seek to engage.”
That’s all well and good but all elected officials should encourage those who they speak to follow up through formal channels. When you reach out in the methods listed above, you are essentially saying that you can accurately represent what is said to you in these informal settings. Other elected officials are taking your hearsay as “public comment”. It is grossly devaluing the process the council lays out to engage on a topic.
We are encouraged to write, email, or show up to meetings, not catch you in the grocery store. It is also very likely that you are hearing concerns that reflect your own bias. Your neighbors and friends are likely part of a social bubble that allows cognitive dissonance to go unchecked. It is not democratic. It is not representative of the larger public voice; it is simply you talking to people who most likely agree with you. On a topic as hotly debated as cannabis retail, allowing a councilor to basically use hearsay as public comment is completely inappropriate.
I don’t know what the right answers are for folks with subjective concerns about cannabis (smell, for instance) other than TALK to each other. But please consider the repercussions of Tuesday night on the economic development of Los Alamos. We should be doing anything and everything to get businesses a foothold in this county and this was a freebie that council (four members of council in particular) squandered.