Las Vegas Sun

November 28, 2015

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Medical marijuana bill in danger in the Assembly

A bill legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries in Nevada could be in danger.

An Assembly Republican leader said today nearly all of their members are disinclined to support the bill, meaning Democrats would not be able to meet the two-thirds requirement to pass the measure.

“I certainly wouldn’t vote for anything that would enhance the availability of marijuana,” said Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, the caucus policy director.

Senate Bill 374, which had its first Assembly committee hearing today, would allow medical marijuana patients to buy their medicine at dispensaries meant to be like pharmacies.

The bill’s sponsor, however, said it seems like the Assembly is poised to pass the bill.

“I didn’t hear any opposition that was significant,” said Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas.

Democrats need at least one or two Republicans to join them to pass the bill.

While Gov. Brian Sandoval earlier said he’d veto a separate bill legalizing the recreational use of medical marijuana, he said he’s open-minded about the dispensary bill.

The dispensary bill passed the Senate with unanimous Democratic support and a favorable vote from six of 10 Republicans in the Senate.

The bill needs to pass the Nevada Assembly with a two-thirds majority by Monday, the last day of the legislative session, and requires the approval of the governor.

Segerblom has worked with law enforcement, medical marijuana patients, local governments and his Republican colleagues in the Senate to fashion the 40-page bill, which essentially outlines the regulatory framework of a new type of business.

He has had no greater ally than Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, a conservative Republican who opposed the original votes in 1998 and 2000 to put the right to medical marijuana in the state constitution but supports upholding the state’s constitutional mandate for the Legislature to “provide by law for authorization of appropriate methods for supply of the plant to patients authorized to use it.”

He said he supports the bill because it is the “absolute opposite of the California system.”

“This will not be the Dr. Feelgood hanging out in a Jerry Garcia smoking lounge with a giant pot flag hanging outside the door,” he said.

Incidentally, Segerblom has a large flag with an image of a marijuana leaf hanging in his office, indicating that the bill has support from both conservatives and liberals in the Legislature.

The bill also has support from the executive director of the state Republican Party.

“This is important to a lot of our seniors,” said Michael McDonald, who said that while the party has not taken a position on this bill, he is at the Legislature to personally support it.

The chairman of the Assembly Judiciary committee that heard the bill this morning did not say whether it was likely to pass, noting he hasn’t counted the votes yet.

But he did indicate that there was limited opposition.

“It went fine,” said Assemblyman Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas.

The bill originates from a number of court cases in which judges and law enforcement officials have noted that the current law regulating medical marijuana is unclear and does not provide a reasonable means by which patients can acquire their medicine.

The proposal has morphed numerous times since its introduction several months ago as Segerblom and Hutchison have amended it to address concerns.

The most current amendment says that the dispensaries must be 1,500 feet from schools, churches, parks, day cares, playgrounds, public swimming pools and recreational centers. They also must be located in industrial or commercial zones.

Local governments would have the right to ban dispensaries if they choose.

“That’s a very solid legal and political principle, and that is the government closest to the people governs best,” Hutchison said.

When licensing dispensaries, counties would be restricted to hosting no more than 40 dispensaries or a number equitable to 10 percent of licensed pharmacies in a county, whichever is greater.

The bill also lays out application, registration, and renewal fees for cultivation and production facilities, independent laboratories, and storefront dispensaries. Owners would need to pass a lengthy application process with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

The final sale of the product would be subject to sales tax, and the state would levy a 2 percent excise tax on the sale, production and growth of medical marijuana.

Fees for applying for a medical marijuana card would be cut in half under the amendment.

In addressing concerns that the dispensaries would be unsavory or detrimental to communities, Hutchison said there’s a provision in the bill that would address those concerns.

In the bill, the dispensaries must “have an appearance, both as to the interior and exterior, that is professional, orderly, dignified and consistent with the traditional style of pharmacies and medical offices” and “have discreet and professional signage that is consistent with the traditional style of signage for pharmacies and medical offices.”

A commission working in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services would work to develop regulations governing dispensaries. They’d finish their work by April 1, 2014, and Segerblom said the first dispensaries could open by the end of 2014 or early 2015.

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