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October 23, 2014

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Group of women trying to break into pot business ‘for the right reasons’

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Sam Morris

From left, Paula Newman, Alexandra Davis, Susan Lara and Brenda Gunsallus work on their application for a medical marijuana dispensary and production facility Wednesday, July 16, 2014.

They’re not well connected and they don’t have a ton of money. But five Las Vegas women — a former cop, a former poker dealer, two salespeople and a small-business owner — hope to crack the medical marijuana market.

Under the business name Desert Aire Wellness LLC, Stacey Nunn, Paula Newman, Alex Davis, Susan Lera and Brenda Gunsallus are seeking city licenses to grow, produce and sell medical marijuana.

The women, who work out of a room at a Hampton Inn, say they’re doing it because they’ve each known someone who could benefit from medicinal pot, and they want to create a business for “regular” people to feel welcome. And they have one powerful connection: Super lawyer Jay Brown, one of Southern Nevada’s most connected lobbyists. He is a former law partner of ex-Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and has ties to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Why are you getting into the medical marijuana business?

Susan Lera: I have an autistic child. The school district keeps pushing us to put him on Ritalin or Adderall, and I don’t want to. I’m doing it because I want to help children. (Some studies have shown that the cannabinoids in marijuana help people with autism).

Is there a reason you are a women-only business?

Lera: We’ve done some research and found that women are very uncomfortable going into a dispensary. We’re trying to gear it more toward them, with cleanliness and safety.

How much does it cost?

Lera: Licensing is about $15,000. The attorney is about $100,000. Plans will be about another $20,000. Then redoing the building (in the 400 block of East Sahara Avenue) is about $300,000.

How much will your pot sell for?

Lera: About $50 for an eighth of an ounce, plus sales tax.

So about $400 an ounce?

Lera: Right.

What about security? Is that a big issue?

Lera: Our building will have no windows. We’re going to do a gate system around it that will be open during the day but be closed at night. And we will have security guards when you come in the door.

What do your friends and family say?

Lera: It’s fascinating. Since we started, we’ve heard nothing but there’s no way we can do this because we don’t have the political pull or enough connections. We’re everyday working women. We don’t have deep pockets. We have a year’s worth of money to cover us.

Do you think you’ll get rich from this?

Brenda Gunsallus: We had an expert come from Arizona. He has been around us for weeks. He finally put down the phone and said, “I want to tell you something. I’ve been in this industry for a long time, but not one of you has asked me how much revenue is going to be made.” This group is doing it for the right reasons.

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