In a somewhat unusual move, especially on a controversial issue, the Las Vegas City Council cut off public speakers at its Sept. 17 meeting, voting unanimously to pass a six-month moratorium on granting business licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries.
The immediate effect of the moratorium is limited, because such dispensaries, originally called for by voters in a medical marijuana amendment to the Nevada Constitution in 2000 yet not authorized by the Legislature this year, need state regulations in place before they can operate. Those rules are supposed to be in place as early as December.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman said at the council meeting that the city did not have to allow public discussion on the moratorium — which has been opposed by some medical marijuana advocates — because there was public hearing and discussion at another, smaller meeting of the council’s Recommending Committee the day before. City Attorney Brad Jerbic agreed.
“Just because you’re entitled to a public hearing doesn’t mean you’re entitled to a public hearing before the full council,” Jerbic said. The council’s recommending committee, which also supported the moratorium, includes just three council members.
Several in the audience objected to shutting off public comment before the full council.
“Some of us have been waiting for three hours” to speak, said attorney Bruce Gale, who added that audience members had filled out co-called “comment cards” requesting time to speak on the issue. Gale also said that some would-be speakers had come from out of state to the meeting.
Jerbic and several council members insisted that the moratorium, which lasts for six months and bans any construction or operation of a dispensary in the city during that time, is a temporary measure while the city awaits permanent rules being drafted by the state.
But the discussion among council members also indicated that medical marijuana patients might have bigger problems getting the leafy herb down the road, at least legally in the city.
Goodman, as she has before, said she is concerned that dispensary operators were motivated by profit rather than philanthropic reasons for establishing the pot stores. The mayor in the past has mused aloud about regulating equal prices among dispensaries so that patients would not be forced to shop for medical marijuana.
Jerbic noted that although medical marijuana is authorized by state law — and subject to a hands-off directive from the Obama White House for states that have permitted some kinds of pot sale and use — there are still potentially harsh federal laws in place for the growing, distribution and sale of marijuana.
Councilman and Mayor Pro-Tem Stavros Anthony, a former Metro police captain, agreed.
“It’s considered a dangerous drug under federal law that you can go to prison to, for a number of years,” he said, adding that he did not want to be accused of abetting drug trafficking. Nonetheless, Anthony added that he was not taking a stand on medical marijuana specifically.
Vicki Higgins, spokesman for WECAN, Wellness Education Cannabis Advocates for Nevada, a medical-marijuana advocacy group in Nevada, said about 15 people were at the council meeting who wanted to speak.
“We were all very, very much disappointed,” she said.
She said she’s still confident that dispensaries will be permitted next year in the city of Las Vegas.
“Basically, the council’s goal is that all the ducks are in a row before the dispensaries are set up,” Higgins said.