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As chairperson of the Unified Prevention Coalition of Doña Ana County, I want to offer the Coalition’s congratulations to the Las Cruces City Council for their vote to keep a distance of 300-feet between individual cannabis stores as well as from single-family residences. This same distance is already in place for schools and daycare centers. The UP! Coalition sees this as an important measure to promote public health and help parents and our coalition in keeping our children away from drugs.
Based on the New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey (YRRS), we have learned that one- fourth of high school students in Doña Ana County, from 9th through 12th grade, admit to using cannabis. Additionally, New Mexico has a higher rate of cannabis use before age 13 compared to the other 46 states included in this survey.
Studies have examined how the concentration and location of cannabis stores impact youth. Similar research has also been done on two other legal drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, and the findings are consistent. Researchers have discovered when there are a lot of stores selling these substance in a particular area, youth in that area are more likely to use cannabis.
They have also found when cannabis use does begin, it will be at a younger age. Also, those young girls and boys are more likely to later develop major issues with marijuana and other mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Further studies have shown early cannabis use has a significant impact on the functioning of the adolescent brain.
When stores are close together and in home neighborhoods, it gives the impression to young people that cannabis must not be harmful. The more stores in an area and located in their neighborhoods, the more often kids see the signs and advertising. This repeated exposure reduces their perception of risks of using marijuana, leading them to believe it is less dangerous. As a result, they may decide to try marijuana at an earlier age, which can lead to heavier use in the future. In other words, when cannabis stores are located and concentrated in one area, it normalizes cannabis use for young people, causing them to overlook the potential harms and consequences.
The UP! Coalition will continue to provide direct prevention initiatives targeted at reducing or preventing drinking or drug use among youth. However, we recognize the community can take other measures to ensure children’s safety. By considering the impact of the environment on our children’s health, the City Council’s decision to maintain the buffer zones demonstrates their dedication to protecting our children by minimizing their exposure to stores and advertising.
The UP! Coalition strongly supports this decision by the City Council. We also urge them to expand the current zoning regulations to include multi-family residences and
apartments in the 300-foot buffer zone, not just single-family homes. We also recommend and encourage the council to support the education of staff and the Planning and Zoning Commission about the effects of cannabis on our children to address future waiver requests. The City Council’s commitment to maintaining these buffer zones is a significant step in addressing the concerns and efforts of all parents in our community to keep our kids drug-free.
Dr. Ned Rubin, Chair
Unified Prevention Coalition of Doña Ana County