Education goes to pot: Trying to learn marijuana law in a state that doesn’t have marijuana law

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THE SEMINAR WAS PLANNED before the legislation had passed its Senate committee, but CEO Robert Calkin knew it was coming. He had tried to organize a similar class a few years before, but few registered, prompting him to cancel it.

Fast forward to 2012, when Clark County District Court Judge Donald Mosley ruled the state’s medical-marijuana protocol unconstitutional, and Calkin knew it was time.

He scheduled a one-day crash course for April 13 in bud-tending, dispensary management and growing, which Calkin’s Cannabis Career Institute already offers in five states — California, Massachusetts, Washington, Rhode Island and New Jersey. Nevada would be its sixth.

Then, in a serendipitous twist, Senate Bill 374 passed committee on April 11. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Tick Segerblom, legalizes medical marijuana dispensaries in Nevada.

In 2000, Nevada voters approved medical marijuana, but legislators had left the law open-ended, with the expectation it would be wrapped up in a timely fashion. It was not. More than a decade later, card-holding patients are still unable to legally obtain their drug. In 2008, a few entrepreneurs had opened dispensaries and co-ops, but the feds raided and shut down five in a single day, discouraging similar operations. Medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The Cannabis Career Institute, Nevada’s first medical-marijuana school, promises to teach students how to stay on the right side of the law — a slightly ambitious claim, given that the legislation still has a way to go before it’s law.

Today, the prospect is closer to fruition, though it still faces hurdles. The bill passed committee last week, but still has to go through finance committee to measure its potential economic impact, and must be signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Still, Calkin is confident.

“If you can regulate prostitution, if you can regulate gambling,” he says, “then marijuana will be a piece of cake.”

His classes offer instruction on how to open dispensaries and delivery services, and how to grow and cook. They’re aimed at not only aspiring business owners, but also those who wish to become employed in the industry.

“It’s not just got people who want to own businesses, but also for those who want to get involved,” Calkin says.

He estimates that hundreds or even thousand of his students have opened their own private dispensaries or co-ops, and that there are hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana jobs in the country.

This time, Cannabis Career Institute attracted about 40 students with various interests — patients seeking info, and hopeful growers and those seeking business info. The class runs 10 hours and costs a flat-fee of $250. Classes are held in convention spaces throughout the country, though the institute hopes to open a permanent location in partnership with Compassion Nevada, a consulting company that helps people obtain medical marijuana cards.

While the demand is there, the law still hasn’t been put into place, though the Senate bill passed committee unanimously with a 7-0 vote, and Segerblom says Sandoval has pledged to sign the bill. However, Sandoval does not support Assembly Bill 402, which would legalize recreational use.

Segerblom estimates it may take as long as June to finalize the SB 374, and up to a year to implement it.

Although outfits like the Cannabis Career Institute may be jumping the gun by promising to teach legal practices in a state that does not yet have legal practices, it does offer free follow-up classes, and Segerblom sees the enthusiasm as a positive sign.

“It shows the interest in this. It’s overwhelming,” he says, noting that 10 of his own friends are interested in starting their own franchises.

If legislation passes, it could mean millions for the state. Plans are to model the system after Arizona’s lottery system, though Nevada would allow for-profits.

The formula would allow one dispensary for every 10 pharmacies, such as CVS or Walgreens, which amounts to 50 openings in the state. Segerblom says it would cost $5,000 just to enter the lottery and $20,000 to be licensed thereafter, drawing at least $1.2 million — but likely more.

As to the specifics of how the program will run, it’s still up in the air.

“You never know until it’s over,” Segerblom says. “There’s a million possibilities, but the overall mood is positive.”