Recreational pot advocates pleased with Nevada Legislature’s strides

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Steve Marcus

An employee takes a cutting from a plant at a Desert Grown Farms Cultivation Facility in Las Vegas, Dec. 15, 2016.

CARSON CITY — 

Legislators in favor of propelling Nevada’s marijuana industry will have most of their wishes fulfilled if Gov. Brian Sandoval keeps a commitment to sign at least one of four remaining pot bills sitting on his desk.

The bills approved by the Legislature before Monday night’s deadline:

Nevada Legislature

Lobbyist John Piro, representing the Clark County Public Defenders Office, testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Carson City on Friday, June 2, 2017.Launch slideshow »

• Senate Bill 487 would mandate a 10 percent excise tax on recreational marijuana sales for the state’s rainy day fund.

• Senate Bill 344 would require childproof, opaque-colored packaging for edibles and restrict THC content per package.

• Assembly Bill 422 would reduce the costs of medical marijuana cards from $75-$100 to $50.

• Assembly Bill 259 would allow those convicted of past marijuana-related crimes involving an equal or lesser amount of what’s now legal to have that crime vacated from their criminal records.

They await the governor’s approval before a June 15 deadline. Sandoval said Monday he would “absolutely be signing” SB487, but he’s still deciding on SB344. “That’s a bill I’m still reading,” Sandoval said of SB344. “I want to look closely through it.” He did not comment on AB422 or AB259.

The proposed bills would join four other bills signed into law from this session to provide a framework for Nevada’s new recreational marijuana industry, while preserving the state’s medical marijuana program.

Ballot Question 2, passed last November, legalized possession and use of up to one ounce of recreational marijuana flower for adults age 21 and older, or up to one ounce of marijuana concentrates, like wax, shatter and carbon dioxide oil. But the ballot question called on the Legislature and the Nevada Department of Taxation to further define the industry.

The Nevada Department of Taxation, which will regulate the industry, approved provisions for an “early start” program to begin on July 1 to allow current medical marijuana facilities in good standing to obtain temporary recreational licenses before the recreational program’s scheduled start date of Jan. 1.

The four bills already signed by Sandoval represent an achievement for state Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas. The longtime marijuana advocate said Tuesday it was his “best session as a legislator.”

“We’re very proud of what we accomplished,” Segerblom said. “We ended up where we wanted it to be.”

The list of signed bills includes:

• Marijuana rights for tribes. Senate Bill 375 allows the governor’s office to negotiate with tribal governments within Nevada on the use and sale of medical marijuana. It cites the 2013 Cole Memorandum and 2014 Wilkinson Memorandum, which suggest the U.S. Department of Justice should not devote law enforcement resources to crack down on those complying with marijuana laws within their state.

• Disclosure on parolees involved in medical weed. Senate Bill 277, unanimously passed through the Senate and Assembly, requires the Division of Public and Behavioral Health to disclose information on medical marijuana patients to the Division of Parole and Probation if a cardholder or applicant is on parole or probation. Previous laws require the Division of Public and Behavioral Health to keep that information confidential. But, unlike other marijuana laws at this year’s Legislature, SB277 won’t go into effect until Oct. 1.

• No urine test for marijuana DUI suspects. Passed with 34 of 42 votes in the Assembly and unanimously in the Senate, Assembly Bill 135 erases a limit set on the amount of marijuana that can legally be found in the urine of a driver suspected to be impaired. Instead, the amount of marijuana in a driver suspected to be impaired can now only be measured through a blood test.

• More leniency for hemp research. The heavily amended Senate Bill 396, first introduced in March as a bill to regulate massage parlors that use medical marijuana topical products, was instead passed to allow growth and research of low THC-level marijuana and industrial hemp. While existing law allows universities to grow and research industrial hemp, Sen. Pat Spearman’s bill allows plants with a THC percentage of less than 0.3 to be more widely grown and researched.

Marijuana advocates had some setbacks this session. Among bills to not make the final cut:

• Apprenticeship programs. Senate Bill 416 would have allowed medical marijuana facilities — dispensaries, cultivation facilities and testing labs — to apply for and carry out state apprenticeship programs. Sandoval vetoed the bill on May 30, citing the risk of losing federal funds for the state internship program because the plant is still federally illegal. The Senate chose not to take further action after Sandoval’s veto.

• More qualifying medical conditions, protection for licensing board members and green light for weed massages. Segerblom’s wide-ranging Senate Bill 374 would have added opioid addiction to the list of qualifying medical conditions for Nevadans to obtain a medical marijuana card. It also prevented professional licensing boards from firing or disciplining a board-licensed employee who uses medical marijuana, and allowed health care and massage therapists to legally use products containing weed on their clients’ skin. Sandoval vetoed the bill on May 31, and the Senate did not take further action.

• Marijuana lounges. Senate Bill 236 would have allowed businesses to obtain permits for marijuana use and open the door for pot consumption in some public places where it is outlawed. The bill passed through Senate and Assembly committees but missed a May 26 deadline to move forward.

• Weed funds for child welfare, alcohol abuse and health programs. Senate Bill 379 would have designated revenue from Nevada’s medical marijuana program for agencies that provide child welfare services for alcohol and drug abuse and behavioral health programs. That bill also passed through the Senate last month but never made it out of Assembly committee before a May 19 deadline.

Local reaction

Members of the Las Vegas marijuana industry called the legislative session “astonishing” and marveled at the Nevada government’s collective movement to jump-start its recreational marijuana program.

Nevada would be the first of four states that legalized recreational marijuana last November to start sales of the plant if licensed dispensaries are allowed to begin early-start recreational sales as planned on July 1.

“What they’ve done collectively is unprecedented,” said Frank Hawkins, owner of Nevada Wellness Center Marijuana Dispensary. “Usually you can’t get the government to do anything quickly.”

Hawkins, who voted against Ballot Question 2 because he believed a recreational industry would negatively impact Nevada’s current medical program, said he came on board with the new industry after seeing state officials’ “strong desire” to also preserve the medical program.

“You have to get huge kudos to them, for stepping out into waters they thought were uncharted,” he said.

David Goldwater, owner of Inyo Fine Cannabis Dispensary, agreed. He said the 10 percent excise tax outlined in SB487 on recreational sales was something the industry is reluctantly “choking down,” considering the otherwise industry-friendly legislation this session.

For Segerblom, who helped bring Nevada’s medical pot industry to life in the 2013 and 2015 legislative sessions, the end of this year’s session allows a rare moment of relaxation. Before getting back to work on the industry’s next steps, Segerblom said he’s taking at least Tuesday to celebrate and rest.

“A lot of times we have great ideas but we can’t get them through the process,” he said. “People really worked together this time to make it happen.”

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