The cities and county of Southern Nevada are making their stumbling way towards having legal storefront operations to deal medical marijuana to card-carrying patients with prescriptions for the drug.
But the citizens of the state’s largest city might have to wait, potentially for a long time, to see dispensaries.
Nevada voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2000 that both allowed medical marijuana to be cultivated and sold, but the rules and regulations were in a state of limbo until last year, when the Legislature finally established the process for establishing brick-and-mortar dispensaries. Since the summer of 2012, the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health has, when not trying to convince folks flu vaccinations do not give children autism, been developing new regulations for these would-be dispensaries. Those regulations are now over in the hands of the Legislative Counsel Bureau for fine tuning and promulgation, with a target date of April 1.
So the idea was for the state to start taking applications to set up shops to sell pot on that day, but April fool! The state has warned that it likely won’t start accepting applications until an unspecified date later in the year.
And if you were a potential medical marijuana mogul (and among the reams of regs you would have to navigate is a requirement that you have $250,000 in cash), don’t count on plopping your store down in the middle of Las Vegas. Or Henderson or other city down hereabouts.
As much as the people of Nevada want medical marijuana, when it comes to the city staffs and especially their legal advisers, this is far from a closed deal. The essential conundrum is that while the state of Nevada thinks Dr. Reefer is just fine, possession, cultivation or sale of marijuana are still federal crimes.
“That’s obviously a problem and that’s obviously a conflict,” Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic told Jon Ralston last week on Face to Face. And not just for elected leadership - it’s a violation of law and legal ethics for a lawyer to advise a client, even the city of Las Vegas, on how to break the law.
The Obama administration has sort-of promised to respect state marijuana laws, but what happens in a pot hard-liner gets into office in 2016 or beyond?
It’s a conflict that’s also present among the six council members and the mayor who set policy for the city. Councilman Stavros Anthony, a former Metro police officer, said last year, when considering a moratorium on setting rules and accepting applications for dispensaries, that he fears he could be prosecuted as a drug dealer if his vote allowed dispensaries in the city.
Jerbic says that if the city council set a policy to go forward with allowing dispensaries, he probably would simply abstain from advising either way. In the meantime, he has submitted a letter to the State Bar of Nevada asking for some guidance.
Alan Lefebvre, State Bar president, warns that there could be trouble for lawyers who assist in getting dispensaries established.
“I don’t think it’s legitimate from a societal perspective, not just legal,” he said on Ralston’s Face to Face.
This background of concern and caution, however, doesn’t appear to have slowed Clark County’s move to allow dispensaries. Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin declined to make the Deputy District Attorney Mary Ann Miller available for comment, but said the county has a general statement for media inquiries on the issue:
“We are not at the point of writing any ordinance yet,” he said. “We are waiting for the state to write their regulations.”
However, the county is going forward investigating the kind of process and zoning categories that it will need to regulate dispensaries, and it appears that establishing the pot shops have a solid core of support among the seven county commissioners. One of them, Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, spoke last weekend at a conference of Wellness Education Cannabis Advocates of Nevada meeting at Main Street Station downtown.
Giunchigliani said local governments “need to move forward.” If the city of Las Vegas or other local governments don’t want dispensaries, they can look to the county to locate, she said.
“We’ll do the business and will take the revenue that is generated,” Giunchigliani promised.
The state law is structured so that if cities in the county do not want dispensaries, those licenses can go to the county, up to 60 shops in total.
Another speaker at the weekend conference was Jacqueline Holloway, Clark County Director of Business Licensing. She noted that it is the third time she’s addressed the medicinal-marijuana crowd. Navigating the county’s process is the second step for would-be dispensary owners and operators, after beginning the state application process.
But unlike some of the staff and elected officials at the city, the county seems to be much more welcoming.
“I consider everyone we work with to be my partner,” Holloway said. “…We do not refuse any discussions, any meetings.”
The county commission on Nov. 5 directed staff to go forward, so that’s what she and her colleagues at business licensing are doing, she said.
“We all know you are courageous entrepreneurs,” Holloway said. “I applaud you for that.”
State Senator Tick Segerblom, who helped draft and submit the law last spring that provided for the dispensaries, was yet another speaker at the WECAN conference.
He takes a laissez-faire approach to allowing local governments to allow, or not, dispensaries.
“The cities and counties can make up their own mind,” Segerblom said. He said he realistically expects the first dispensaries to open their doors in the fall of this year.
While that, the opening, remains to be seen, in the meantime, those Nevada citizens who have medical marijuana cards can take heart. While brick-and-mortar shops are still open only in the imaginations of dealers and buyers, anybody with a card and an Internet connection can still find about two-dozen “dispensaries” that provide delivery-only services in Las Vegas.