Published Monday, Aug. 24, 2015 | 11:41 a.m.
Updated Monday, Aug. 24, 2015 | 1:09 p.m.
Standing outside Euphoria Wellness in the southwest valley today, Joe LaMarca beamed as he recounted all the work it took to hang a banner above his medical marijuana dispensary that read, "Now Open."
"I've been waiting for this day for two years and three days," said LaMarca.
In August 2013, the former spa owner decided to jump into Nevada's newly created medical marijuana industry. Since then, LaMarca and his business partners have spent over a million dollars and navigated a maze of red tape.
Euphoria Wellness, 7785 S. Jones Blvd., opened its doors to 200 pre-registered patients today at 10 a.m today, becoming the first dispensary in the Las Vegas area and second in the state to begin selling medical marijuana under a 2013 state law. It will be open to all medical marijuana cardholders on Wednesday.
LaMarca said he was "numb" with excitement as he watched the 20 patients file into the dispensary one at a time to fill out paperwork and speak to the “wellness guides” who would help them make a purchase. Excluding the initial paperwork, the shopping process takes as little as 10 minutes.
The building, located in a suburban shopping center next to a dentist and a bar, has an clean, well-lit design reminiscent of a pharmacy. Upon entering, patients encounter a waiting room where their registration is checked before being ushered behind bulletproof glass security doors to inspect the merchandise.
At its opening, Euphoria Wellness has only six strains for sale in glass display cases, but it plans to offer as many 27 varieties once supplies increase. Candies, baked goods and other cannabis edibles, oils and tinctures will also eventually go on sale.
Shortly after 10 a.m. David Cobbett walked out of the store with a paper sack filled with half an ounce of Kosher Kush and Cheese, two strains he'd purchased inside for a total of $225. "I'm still not quite sure it's real," said Cobbett, who uses medicinal marijuana to treat lingering back pain following an auto accident.
Cobbett said narcotics prescribed by doctors made him lethargic. "I sat in a recliner and did nothing."
After four years with a medical marijuana card, Cobbett said he was glad to have a safe location to purchase thoroughly-tested cannabis.
For patients like him and others lined up outside Euphoria Wellness Monday morning, the dispensary's opening was celebration of the end of a wait that's taken much longer than expected.
Nevada voters legalized medical marijuana in 2000, but the state never set up a regulatory framework for the growth and distribution of cannabis. That meant that patients were forced to grow their own plants, a technical and costly undertaking. Some of those who didn't grow their own supplies instead turned to a black market of marijuana delivery services.
In 2013, the Legislature created a licensing system for dispensaries, growing operations and production facilities. But building the new industry from scratch required an extensive regulatory process that led to numerous delays.
Democratic congresswoman Dina Titus, who was in the state Legislature when voters first approved medical marijuana, compared the slow progress to watching grains of sand pour through an hourglass. “This movement has really picked up in the last five years," she said, praising Nevada for incorporating lessons learned from Arizona, California and Colorado. "Some people would say we're the model now."
Sen. Patricia Farley, R-Las Vegas, who helped champion several medical marijuana bills at the Legislature, said the slow start is to be expected any time a new industry is formed, but she's confident many of the early hurdles have been cleared. "This is going to be a successful industry in Nevada that brings in good jobs," she said. "We're getting out of our own way now."
At least one patient walked away disappointed from Euphoria Wellness on Monday morning. After lining up out front before the store's opening, Linda Yoast was turned away because she didn't have the right paperwork.
"I'm just totally deflated," said Yoast.
At least one more medical marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas is expected to open within the next month, with several more opening before the end of the year. In total, the valley is expected to have between 40 and 50 dispensaries, with dozens of growing and production facilities to support them.
"There have been some growing pains for the industry," LaMarca said. "Now it will be easier for everybody else.”