Sunland Park eyes $7 million slice of New Mexico’s $300 million cannabis pie

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SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico (Border Report) – With Texas’ sixth-largest city right across the state line, Sunland Park expects to cash in big when New Mexico’s recreational marijuana law goes into effect this spring.

“This has the potential of doubling the revenues for the city of Sunland Park,” Mayor Javier Perea said. That translates to $7 million. “One unique part about the city is obviously the location. Being right next to two states, Texas and Chihuahua (Mexico) […] We have a metroplex of over 2 million people. That’s more than the entire population of the state of New Mexico.”

New Mexico last June legalized recreational cannabis activities, green-lighting retail sales beginning next April. State officials say recreational sales could reach $300 million in the first year.

Texas has no such law but there’s nothing stopping West Texas residents from coming over to buy or consume. Already, hundreds of El Paso residents drive to Sunland Park on Sundays to purchase liquor due to Texas liquor stores being closed that day.

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In preparation for the traffic, Sunland Park this month approved the second of two ordinances to regulate where and when businesses and individuals with a state license can sell cannabis products.

First, licensees must pay a business registration fee to the city. Stores can sell cannabis products for consumption off-premises only between 7 am and midnight Monday through Saturday, and 8 am to midnight on Sunday. In-store consumption areas may operate from 7 am to 2 am

The city banned cannabis retailers from manufacturing areas but allows them to operate virtually everywhere else outside residential areas, school zones, daycare centers and other well-defined gathering places.

“The state is really the one that dictates all that, but we can enforce our codes and ensure public safety,” Perea said.

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The smoking of cannabis in public is prohibited, except in designated consumption areas, by the ordinances. Cannabis cultivation and production for personal use cannot be visible from a public right of way, and marijuana consumers are responsible for preventing theft or use by anyone who’s not 21 years of age.

Individuals can grow up to six plants at home or a maximum of 12 per household with two or more adults over 21 years old.

This April 6, 2018, file photo shows the leaves of a marijuana plant inside Ultra Health’s cultivation greenhouse in Bernalillo, NM (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

Ordinances provide fines and community service for those 21 years and older who possess more than 2 ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of extract or 800 milligrams of edible cannabis in public. Adults who obtain cannabis at an establishment and then try to sell it or barter on their own are subject to a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail.

“This being a new industry, we don’t know exactly what to expect. But there’s always concerns when you have a lot more people coming into the community you have to have more police protection for everyone,” the mayor said. “There’s also concerns of people driving under the influence. These are the things we’re trying to balance […] and I know the state will be looking very closely at what happens in Sunland Park.”

The city’s goal is integrating cannabis retailers to existing economic development areas “where people are going to have food and drinks as well,” Perea said.

That includes the entertainment district anchored by Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, the arts district around Ardovino’s restaurant, the medical district around Country Club Road and McNutt, and the south side business corridor running along McNutt Road – which is essentially Sunland Park’s main street.

Perea could not immediately provide the number of cannabis businesses that will be operating in Sunland Park. Statewide, 290 applications had been submitted as of mid-January and 30 were fully approved. The state also renewed licenses for 34 existing medical cannabis producers.

Residents of this overwhelmingly Hispanic community appeared split on marijuana sales.

“If young people are going to (consume it) anyway, it’s better that they do so at home. I don’t think crime is going to increase as long as they don’t go out on the streets” under the influence, said resident Ramon Valencia.

But Elizabeth Arzaga said too many young people in her community are already doing drugs. “They can get out of control, or it can affect their health,” she said, adding she fear teens will lie about their age and others could start selling without a license.

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Perea said most of those who attended public hearings last year were supportive.

“People realize it’s not something we can control necessarily at our level or be able to stop it or prevent it from happening in certain areas,” he said.