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Deming City Council nixes Ruby St. cannabis dispensary

A former pastry shop nestled in a Deming neighborhood near St. Ann Catholic Church will not house a cannabis dispensary, as had been hoped by its buyers, after the city council rejected a special use permit request by representatives of the La Mota chain of dispensaries in Oregon.

La Mota CEO Rosa Cazares said the chain was under contract to purchase the small bakery at 305 S. Ruby Street with hopes of opening a dispensary there. She said the corporation had also closed on another property in Deming.

The bakery had once been a family business operated by Elijio and Navora Piñon Uzueta, and later by their son, Richard Uzueta, who died in 2007.

While the property is zoned for commercial use, city staff and neighbors raised concerns about street parking in the area and the possibility of increased traffic, as well as general security concerns.

What settled the question, however, was the presence of a small licensed daycare nearby, which appeared to catch Cazares by surprise.

The city Planning and Zoning Commission had voted in October not to recommend the special use permit, citing similar concerns although meeting minutes state there were also objections to more cannabis dispensaries opening in town.

Although New Mexico’s Cannabis Regulation Act permits municipalities to set some limits on where licensed dispensaries may operate, the businesses cannot be banned outright since state lawmakers legalized cannabis for adult use last year. Legal dispensaries operate under licenses issued and regulated by the state’s Cannabis Control Division.

The city council first approved a special use permit for a cannabis business back in 2016, unanimously granting Ultra Health permission to operate a medical dispensary at a downtown location that ultimately never opened. Currently, Ultra Health and the Canna Company both operate dispensaries in town.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilor Joe “Butter” Milo asked the applicants why they had not investigated a business location among the empty retail spaces downtown. Cazares said they chose the Ruby Street location because of its size and the opportunity to refurbish the vacant building.

“We like to invest in rural areas and we really like to take buildings and invest a little deeper in our communities,” she told the council by video conference.

La Mota, taking its name for a Mexican slang term for cannabis, lists 24 dispensaries in Oregon on its website. Cazares said the company had also closed on a Spruce Street property for another retailer, but it was not clear whether that retailer would be under La Mota’s brand or not.

According to state records, the Cannabis Control Division has approved two cannabis retail licenses for different addresses on W. Spruce Street, both west of downtown.

La Mota did not respond to a query from the Headlight.

Councilor Irma Rodriguez joined Milo in objecting to the Ruby Street location, saying that despite the commercial zoning she did not care for any business operating within a few feet of residences. She said she would prefer to see more business development downtown rather than within neighborhoods.

Cazares asked whether the council would react differently if a non-cannabis business had sought to open there, obliquely referring to lingering prejudices against “marijuana,” as cannabis is still commonly known. Although legal in New Mexico, it remains a federal crime to possess or use cannabis.

Councilor Alex Valdespino, former Deming police chief, remained mostly silent during the discussion.

Deep into the discussion, city staff informed the council of a home-based daycare service on S. Pearl Street, limited to about eight children, which had been licensed with the state and operating since 2012. Staff said the site was located within a 100-foot radius of the proposed dispensary, which would violate Deming’s cannabis ordinance requiring a 300-foot buffer between cannabis businesses and daycares or schools.

Cazares seemed taken aback by that information and said, “I don’t see how we can move forward until we confirm that.”

Shortly afterward, the council voted unanimously to deny the permit, a decision the business could appeal within 30 calendar days.

Mayor Benny Jasso, who had recused himself from the debate because he had been directly contacted by the business about the matter, suggested the city might help them find a new location, saying the dispensaries currently operating in Deming had been adhering to all city and state requirements at their present locations.

“Unfortunately, this (one) was not going to work,” he said.

This story originally appeared in our Nov. 18 edition.

Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at [email protected] 

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