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December 18, 2014

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Here’s how, where pot dispensaries could set up shop in unincorporated Clark County

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Steve Marcus

Marijuana is shown at the home of James Parsons, a licensed medical marijuana patient and president of Medical Cannabis Consultants of Nevada, Oct. 26, 2010.

Medical marijuana dispensaries could be coming to a strip mall near you under new zoning regulations proposed in unincorporated Clark County, which were released Wednesday.

The proposed rules address where dispensaries and other businesses in the nascent medical marijuana industry can locate and what restrictions they must operate under.

According to the draft regulations, which will be introduced to county commissioners next Wednesday, dispensaries would be allowed to locate within commercially zoned districts like most other retail businesses. Testing laboratories, which will verify the quality of the medical marijuana, will also be allowed in commercial districts, while cultivation facilities, where the crop is grown, and production facilities, where edibles and other marijuana-infused goods are made, will be limited to manufacturing and light industrial areas. No medical marijuana establishments would be allowed on or around the Las Vegas Strip, however.

If the regulations are approved, the medical marijuana industry, which was authorized by the state Legislature in 2013, would be the among the most heavily regulated and scrutinized industries in Southern Nevada.

Each applicant wanting to open a dispensary or other marijuana-related business will have to pay a $5,000 application fee. They’ll then have to gain tacit approval from county commissioners in a public meeting in the form of a special use permit. Commissioners will have final discretion over whether to allow dispensaries and other facilities at a proposed site, a power they’ll have to exercise often due to the limited number of dispensary licenses available.

The rules also require that facilities not be within 1,000 feet of a school or 300 feet of a church or communal facility. Other restrictions limit hours of operation and the amount of signs businesses will be allowed to display.

The rules under development by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services are even more thorough and will complement local zoning and business licensing rules. The state’s regulations cover everything from how medical marijuana is packaged and labeled to a requirement that dispensary owners have $250,000 in liquid assets, a measure meant to draw only serious businesses to the industry.

Although strict, the local regulations unveiled Wednesday were not as harsh as some medical marijuana advocates had feared. Instead of limiting dispensaries to isolated parts of the vast unincorporated county that are hard for patients to access, the zoning regulations allow dispensaries to set up shop in areas where you might otherwise find a Walgreens or CVS.

A total of 10 dispensaries will be allowed in unincorporated Clark County under the state law. Commissioners will look to achieve an even distribution of dispensaries located throughout populous areas of the county when considering permit applications, according to the new regulations. Other factors in their decision will include crime in the area surrounding the proposed location, the business’s security, and transportation plan and its proximity to pharmacies and other medical services.

The county’s proposed regulations are the first to emerge among local Southern Nevada governments, who share responsibility for overseeing the industry with the state. Boulder City officials voted Tuesday to ban dispensaries outright in their jurisdiction, while Henderson and Las Vegas have both issued moratoriums freezing licensing applications until they decide whether to allow the medical marijuana industry within their city boundaries.

If commissioners support the regulations presented at their meeting next week, the ordinance could come back for a formal vote in late March or early April.

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