BERNALILLO — With cannabis retail sales set to become legal next April, Sandoval County will distinguish cannabis retailers from tobacco retailers.

The Sandoval County Commission unanimously approved an ordinance Thursday to manage the growth for both entities and reduce the hazards they may pose to people within the unincorporated sections of the county. Another intent with the ordinance is to reduce the ability for children to obtain tobacco or cannabis products illegally.

“We wanted to just get ahead of the curve,” said Commissioner Michael Meek, who sponsored the ordinance.

Under the ordinance, cannabis retailers are defined as being allowed to sell their products to “qualified patients, primary caregivers or reciprocal participants or directly to consumers.” Tobacco retailers include “any convenience or grocery store that has at least 25 percent of their retail space dedicated to tobacco products.”

Also under the ordinance, there must be a minimum of 500 feet between each tobacco or cannabis retailer, plus at least 300 feet separating a cannabis retailer from a school or daycare center. Those requirements won’t apply to a tobacco or cannabis retailer that was established prior to the ordinance.

Meek told the Observer that the county’s trying to prevent cannabis shops and vape shops from being side by side.

“This keeps the density down,” he said, adding the ordinance is also meant to control the hours of sales.

Michael Meek

Meek said the cannabis retail hours, which will be daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., mirror the Bernalillo County ordinance.

“You just don’t want those type of businesses being open late, where there’s a chance for people to be hanging out,” he said. “I think the hours match the business model. And the state is going to control most of that in terms of the running of the cannabis stores.”

Stores that violate the county ordinance would face a $500 fine or 30 days in jail.

What about shops that accrue multiple violations?

“Hopefully, we’re not going to have those type of chronic problems,” Meek said.

By Jan. 1, the Cannabis Control Division, which falls under the state Department of Regulation and Licensing, must issue licenses to qualified commercial cannabis establishments and start to license marijuana training and education programs. Retail sales would start April 1.

The State of New Mexico legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older June 29. Under the law, individuals can possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana outside of their home.

They can also grow up to 12 marijuana plants at home for personal use only, and they can possess more than 2 ounces of pot inside their home as long as it’s not visible from a public place.

Applicants may submit a request for a variance of the distance and business-hours requirements to the county’s planning and zoning department if the original requirements cause them hardship that deprives the retailer of reasonable property use.