Saturday, March 23, 2013 | 2 a.m.
How familiar are they with pot?
Six of Nevada's legislators took a trip to Arizona to inspect and investigate that state's new medical marijuana dispensary program.
Legislators were in Arizona to get a crash course in the regulation and dispensation of marijuana, but how much do they already know about the product? The Las Vegas Sun posed the question to the six: How much experience with marijuana do you have?
“Not too much recently,” said Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas.
“None,” says Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas. “We never learned anything about it in school. This is my first educational anything.”
“I've never tried it,” said Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas. “I've been around it. I've been at Grateful Dead concerts. That's as close as I've been to marijuana. I know some of the names: Maui Wowi.” (Hammond said he hears the street names for the drug as a high school teacher.)
“I never knew what the smell was,” he said. Knocking on doors during campaign season, he said he thought to himself: “I never knew there were so many skunks in Las Vegas.”
“I've never tried marijuana,” said Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas. “I'm a good Mormon boy.”
“Believe it or not, I never tried it,” said Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, who was an athlete in high school and didn't want to jeopardize his athletic participation by using a drug. “In high school, I was surrounded by it. But if my mom had found out, I would be dead.”
“I plead the Fifth,” said Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — There may be very few times that six elected officials surround themselves with pounds of marijuana and invite in photographers, television stations and newspaper reporters.
But the cameras were rolling as six Nevada state legislators huddled Friday around a lit display case at Arizona Organix. They peered at an array of green cannabis buds with names like Gucci, Blue Elephant, Purple Kush and Platinum Dream.
Some might call this a problem, but for legislators who saw the Arizona medical marijuana dispensary's safety and security controls, it started to look like a solution.
Here's the issue: Nevada's constitution provides for medical marijuana, but critics, legislators and a district court judge have all said that there's really no convenient and lawful way for sick Nevadans to exercise their constitutional right to obtain medical marijuana.
Nevada legislators jetted to Arizona to tour a medical marijuana dispensary, visit a marijuana grow house under development, and chat with state legislators and dispensary licensees in an attempt to learn firsthand how to carefully craft a secure, safe and sensible way to let medical marijuana patients get marijuana.
“We just need to figure out a way to dispense this safely,” said Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas.
Arizona dispensary owners and legislators said it's crucial that Nevada carefully crafts its law.
“The infrastructure you put in place is going to determine the quality of the people dispensing it,” said Moe Asnani, partner with Arizona Dispensary Solutions.
At Arizona Organix, Hutchison, Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, Sens. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas; Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas; Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas; and David Parks, D-Las Vegas, toured the dispensary with hopes that they could bring home good business practices that they can put into a bill in the Nevada Legislature.
“Wow, it smells in here,” Fiore said as they entered.
Bill Myer, the owner, greeted the delegation with his $500 annual dispensary license.
Here was the smell of fresh green bud and the gleam of legitimacy.
Myer guided the legislators through the marijuana dispensing process: Patients arrive in the waiting room and scan a medical marijuana card into a secure government database, where licensed dispensary employees can see the patient's profile.
If the patient has a legitimate card, Myer said the patients follow a “budtender” into a secure room, where they view the product, which costs $370-390 per ounce.
The patient pays on-site and an employee logs the amount of marijuana bought before the patient leaves, thereby preventing a patient from immediately going to another dispensary to buy more above than the 2.5-ounce limit every two weeks.
“We've got some very strict regulations from the state, and we're very happy for it,” said Myer, whose dispensary opened Dec. 6 and has since seen about 100 patients per day. “Give us a chance to show you we're good guys. It can be done right.”
Even though he runs a nonprofit business, he said he will likely pay “well over six figures annually” in both local and state sales tax.
“The biggest smile I have on my face is when I hand over a big wad of money to the authorities,” he said.
Legislators roamed through the facility, talking to co-owner Ryan Wells and Steve Cottrell, the third-party quality controller for the dispensary.
They inspected fudge brownies, lollipops, snickerdoodles and sugar cookies laced with marijuana, and they handled plastic buckets full of different varieties of marijuana.
“Can you overdose?” Hutchison asked.
No, Wells said.
Crowding around a computer monitor, legislators fired off a series of questions about the card database. How do you know someone's card is real? How do you know how much someone has already purchased? Who has access to the state database?
All this information should help legislators amend Segerblom's dispensary bill.
Segerblom’s bill, Senate Bill 374, would allow for the establishment and regulation of nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries for about 3,600 Nevadans with active medical marijuana cards.
Voters in Nevada passed a constitutional amendment in 1998 and 2000 to allow for medical marijuana, and the Legislature passed a law in 2001 to allow for it. But Segerblom said it's not working well, and Nevada needs Arizona-style dispensaries to allow patients to actually get the marijuana to which they're entitled.
“It's incredibly clean,” Segerblom said of the Arizona dispensary. “It's very efficient. It seems very tight as far as the controls. If we could duplicate this in Nevada, I don't see how anyone would object.”
Although federal law bans marijuana, the owners of two Arizona dispensaries said they are not concerned. They've invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in safe systems, and they say the federal government may not crack down on them.
“The state of Arizona gave us the authorization to operate,” Myer said. “The federal government has not. We understand that. We feel, personally, at Arizona Organix that we have a degree of insulation when they come looking for bad actors.”
The company touted its safety and security systems and its earnestness to behave within state and local laws. They also said their product is safety tested and good quality.
“I've never seen bud this good,” Segerblom said. “Obviously, the prices are very expensive. It's not given away. ... My days looking at bud were when there were more seeds than buds.”
“That was a long time ago, my friend,” said Myer, smiling in front of the lighted marijuana display.
Segerblom and the five legislators asked Myer, Asnani and his business partner, Jerry Workman, a series of questions about business practices and medical properties of marijuana before interviewing an Arizona state senator.
“I think we're still a work in progress, but I do think we have some really good efforts,” said state Sen. Kimerbly Yee, R-Phoenix, who spoke with the Nevada legislators by teleconference at the Arizona Legislature.
Nevada's legislative delegation had time to take the trip, which they said they paid for themselves, because Nevada state Senate employees had to take a furlough day Friday.