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December 21, 2014

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How super lawyer Jay Brown (and others) lobbied Clark County to win medical marijuana licenses

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L.E. Baskow

Attorney Jay Brown joins others as they wait to be called in on the last day to submit applications to the Las Vegas Department of Planning for medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation or production on Wednesday, July 23, 2014.

In the final days before Clark County commissioners decided who won lucrative medical marijuana licenses, the commissioners kept bumping into one person: lobbyist Jay Brown.

Brown, one of Las Vegas' most influential lawyers, spent 16 hours in meetings with the county's seven commissioners in the week leading up to the medical marijuana vote.

Compared with 50 other lobbyists, Brown spent three times more than anyone else in closed-door meetings with commissioners. Brown spent the most time with Commissioners Susan Brager and Mary Beth Scow at 3.5 hours, according to a Las Vegas Sun analysis of commissioners' calendars and emails obtained through the Nevada public records law.

Brown, who declined to be interviewed for this story, represented at least seven groups that sought licenses to sell marijuana as a dispensary, more than any other lobbyist. Commissioners approved 18 dispensaries. Brown represented at least three winning groups.

According to county records, groups that Brown represents agreed to pay 9 percent of the business's net revenues for the first 10 years to their lawyer.

Brown was just one of the powerful Las Vegas lobbyists swarming the Clark County Government Center in the week leading up to the June 6 vote.

With only 18 licenses available, the commission had the discretion to decide who got a stake in the budding multimillion-dollar medical marijuana industry and the upper hand if the state eventually legalizes recreational marijuana.

Altogether, the seven commissioners took 144 meetings with at least 51 groups seeking a medical marijuana dispensary license in the week leading up to their decision. The meetings typically lasted 15 to 30 minutes each. Several groups seeking licenses also made campaign contributions to commissioners up for re-election.

The competition was fierce.

“If it’s a real contentious issue, we get a lot of requests for meetings. But nothing’s even been close to the marijuana stuff,” said Chairman Steve Sisolak, a commission member since 2009. “I was meeting (with groups) two months before we had the hearings. I did some of them very early, some not until the very end.”

Sisolak said he met with every group that requested his time and limited each group to one meeting out of fairness.

Here’s a look at other highlights from the commissioner’s calendars and their email inboxes:

Other power players

Jay Brown wasn’t the only familiar face from around the county building to pick up a few medical marijuana clients.

Sean Higgins: An attorney with the Gordon Silver law firm had four clients and spent four and a half hours meeting with commissioners on their behalf. None of the groups received licenses.

Kaempfer Crowell: A trio of attorneys from the law firm — Chris Kaempfer, Bob Gronauer and Jennifer Lazovich — had five hours combined with commissioners. Both of the groups they represented — CWNevada LLC and Clear River LLC — received dispensary licenses.

51 groups and 10 winners

About 80 groups applied for dispensary licenses. Of those, at least 51 met with commissioners in the week before the vote. And of those 51, 10 received a license.

Larry Brown's frequent visitors

Commissioner Larry Brown met with 30 groups for a total of 14 hours, more than any other commissioner. Close behind were Chris Giunchigliani, Steve Sisolak, Susan Brager and Mary Beth Scow, who each spent an average of 12 hours meeting with applicants. Commissioners Lawrence Weekly and Tom Collins were less busy. Collins spent three hours meeting with applicants and Weekly spent two.

Inboxes quiet

Commissioners' email inboxes weren't as busy as their offices.

The seven commissioners received 153 emails related to medical marijuana to their official county inboxes. (Each email had the terms "medical marijuana," "dispensary" or "MME," county jargon for medical marijuana establishment.)

The messages ranged from news clippings about medical marijuana to protests from neighbors to applicants following up after meeting with the commissioners in person.

Many commissioners also keep personal email addresses where they conduct county business. Those emails were not part of the search.

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