Brennan Linsley / AP
Published Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 | 2:01 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 | 10:51 a.m.
In the coming weeks, the first crops of cannabis will begin blooming in warehouses across the valley, the most tangible sign yet that medical marijuana is headed to Southern Nevada.
Businesses that received state approval in November have been busy preparing buildings, sourcing crops and getting ready to open their doors. When they do, an industry that has been almost 15 years in the making will be born.
Voters first legalized medical marijuana in 2000, but the state never established a formal system for growing and distributing it. Patients grew their own plants for personal use.
That changed in 2013 when lawmakers approved a statewide system of dispensaries, growing facilities and labs. It has taken nearly two years to write rules, collect applications and award licenses, but Nevada’s first medical marijuana businesses finally are set to begin operations.
Clark County’s 40 dispensaries likely won’t open for several more weeks or months as they have wait for their marijuana to be harvested.
The medical marijuana industry will be one of the most heavily regulated in the state, with government oversight on par with gaming and liquor. Even so, the field is relatively new, and Nevada still is working out details about how medicinal pot will be handled.
Who can get a medical marijuana card?
Only people with one of eight specific ailments can qualify for a medical marijuana card. They are: cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and conditions that include muscle spasms, seizures, severe nausea, severe pain or wasting.
After a patient receives a recommendation from a doctor, he or she must pay $25 for an application packet to the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health. The application requires a signed, written statement from a doctor, a photocopy of the patient’s driver’s license and personal information such as a Social Security number. It costs $75 to submit an application.
If approved, the patient takes his or her written approval to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which issues physical medical marijuana cards. Cards must be renewed annually and be updated to reflect address changes.
The state also allows patients who are too sick to visit a dispensary designate a caregiver to buy medical marijuana on their behalf. Caregivers must go through the same state licensing process as patients.
Can any doctor prescribe medical marijuana?
Any doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathy licensed by the state is eligible to recommend patients for medical marijuana cards. But because medical marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, doctors can’t prescribe it.
Can patients use medical marijuana anywhere?
No. Medical marijuana can’t be used in public places.
How much marijuana can each patient buy?
Patients can buy 2.5 ounces of cannabis every two weeks. Edibles and other infused products are limited to the amount made with 2.5 ounces of marijuana, and card holders are allowed to keep up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana at home.
Patients can register with a specific dispensary, but they'll still be able to shop at any dispensary in the state. A patient's purchases are tracked in real times across dispensaries to prevent them from buying more than the 2.5 ounce limit.
Tangie Cannabis - Sativa Strain
$46.46 per eighth of an ounce (3.5 grams)
*retail price from a Denver dispensary
Platinum OG Cannabis - Indica Strain
$37.16 per eighth of an ounce (3.5 grams)
*retail price from a Denver dispensary
marQaha product line
60 mg $10
110 mg $15
Mist (sublingual spray):
220 mg $30
Dixie chocolate truffles
2 pcs with 150 mg marijuana retails for about $15, according to the company.
How much will medical marijuana cost?
Predicting exact costs for medical marijuana in Nevada is difficult because dispensaries haven’t opened or started selling products. Early on, there could be a limited supply of marijuana until growing facilities ramp up production, so initial prices could be high.
But expect prices to settle around the amounts charged in other states.
How is dosage regulated?
Doctors and patients work together to determine how much medical marijuana a patient needs. Dispensary staff are also trained to offer patients education and support to determine the amount of each product to use. Dosage depends on how the cannabis is ingested — smoked versus eaten — and varies based on each patient’s condition, build and body chemistry.
Dosage with edible cannabis infused-products generally is easier to control than with smoking or vaporizing.
Can patients still grow their own marijuana?
Yes, but they must register the address of where they’re growing and list all the occupants with the state. Patients are allowed up to 12 plants.
When dispensaries open, patients who live within 25 miles of one won’t be allowed to grow their own marijuana without a special exemption from the state.
Will people and employers know if I have a medical marijuana card?
Medical marijuana card registrations will be stored in a database that dispensaries and law enforcement can access to verify whether someone is licensed.
But the database isn’t viewable by the public, meaning employers, neighbors and insurance companies won’t know you have a medical marijuana card unless you tell them.
Can scofflaws counterfeit medical marijuana cards?
The cards are designed to look like a driver’s license and include a photograph and hologram, making them difficult to counterfeit or pass off to friends.
Getting caught with a fake card is a felony in Nevada.
Is it legal to drive and use medical marijuana?
No. The same laws that apply to driving under the influence of alcohol also apply to driving under the influence of marijuana. If you are driving impaired, no matter the substance, you can be pulled over and prosecuted.
Marijuana is tricky, however, because its metabolites linger in the body for an extended period of time. So someone could fail a blood or urine test, even if he or she isn’t under the influence at the time.
State Sen. Tick Segerblom, Nevada’s leading medical marijuana advocate who sponsored the 2013 legislation that established the dispensary system, said a better alternative would be to issue DUIs based on a subjective test using an officer’s observations instead of blood and urine tests.
Can workers use medical marijuana on the job? Do employers need to make special accommodations for people with medical marijuana cards?
Nevada’s medical marijuana law doesn’t provide any workplace protections for patients, meaning a worker could be fired for using marijuana if his or her company policy prohibits it.
State legislators have discussed possible rules that would prevent medical marijuana users from being reprimanded if the drug shows up in their system as long as they don’t show up to work impaired, but no changes have been enacted.
There’s also the question of whether the Americans with Disabilities Act provides workplace protections for medical marijuana users with a qualifying disease or illness. Segerblom said there’s currently “no good answer to that question.”
Will medical marijuana be covered by insurance?
No. The Federal Drug Administration has to approve a drug for use before insurance companies will cover it, and that hasn’t happened with medical marijuana.
Can people use medical marijuana cards from other states in Nevada?
Yes. Nevada is the only state in the country that will recognize medical marijuana cards from other states. Patients from California, Arizona and anywhere else medical marijuana is legal will be able to shop at Nevada dispensaries while visiting.
Supporters said they want visitors to be comfortable while in Las Vegas, but the decision also opens up the industry to a significantly larger base of customers — and tax dollars.
Can people use Nevada medical marijuana cards in other states?
It depends on the state. Arizona, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire and Rhode Island allow patients from other states to use marijuana, but generally not buy it.
Can patients travel with medical marijuana?
Not legally. If you’re caught with marijuana in another state, even if you bought it legally in Nevada, you could be prosecuted on drug charges.
Even if that state has its own medical marijuana program, it doesn’t mean it protects cardholders from out of state.
Marijuana also is a no-no at McCarran International Airport. It is a federal facility, and since marijuana still is considered a banned substance under federal law, it’s not allowed at the airport.
Can patients send marijuana through the mail?
No. Shipping medical marijuana through the U.S. Postal Service is illegal, even if you have a card, because the drug is outlawed on the federal level.
What’s happening with medical marijuana in the Legislature?
Lawmakers already are eyeing changes to Nevada’s medical marijuana law — even before the first ounce of legal bud has been sold.
One proposed change would allow investors to sell their stake in a medical marijuana business, something they can’t do now.
Segerblom said he’d also like to formalize rules for training workers to require them to take classes and pass a test.
A third proposal would allow businesses to hire third-party contractors to handle short-term, labor-intensive jobs such as trimming crops.
Will more dispensaries be approved?
Nevada law allows for 60 dispensaries statewide, a number Segerblom said probably is too low. Oregon, by comparison, has about 250.
As a result, Segerblom proposed a law that would allow the state to reopen the licensing process to consider more applications and create a higher cap on the number of dispensaries allowed. Segerblom’s plan would allow dispensaries that missed out on a state license to reapply without having to submit a new application, which run several thousand pages long.
Will recreational marijuana be legalized?
Maybe. A bill that would fully legalize recreational marijuana will be taken up by the Legislature after a successful petition initiative.
Segerblom said he is optimistic the bill could pass and said it makes sense for Nevada to get a head start over California in establishing a recreational marketplace.
If the bill fails in the Legislature, it will go to voters on the November 2016 ballot.
Having a medical marijuana card provides patients legal protection against state prosecution for possession, production or delivery of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia. The law also protects non-cardholders in the vicinity of someone legally using medical marijuana.
But users still can be prosecuted and have their cards revoked for driving while high, using marijuana in public, possessing more than the maximum amount allowed or giving the drug to someone who doesn’t have a card.
Does medical marijuana lead to more crime? What about car crashes?
A study from the University of Texas last year found that medical marijuana legalization hasn’t led to an increase in crime. In fact, researchers suggest it may lead to a slight decrease in certain violent crimes, due to people substituting marijuana for alcohol.
The story might be different on roads and highways. A 2014 study from Columbia University found the number of drivers in fatal crashes who tested positive for marijuana has tripled over the last decade. But experts are quick to point out that marijuana metabolites can stay in a person’s system for days or weeks, so a positive test doesn’t mean the drivers were high when they crashed.
On the other hand, a 2013 study by researchers at several universities found traffic fatalities fall as much as 11 percent after states legalize medical marijuana. Drunk driving rates also tend to drop, suggesting some users substitute marijuana for alcohol.
• About 47 percent of Americans say they’ve tried marijuana, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey. Eleven percent said they used the drug in the last year.
• Twenty-three states have legalized marijuana for medical use, including Maryland, Minnesota and New York in 2014. Marijuana is legal for recreational use in Washington, Denver, Oregon and Alaska. Washington D.C. legalized recreational pot but the measure was blocked by Congress.
Projected value of the legal marijuana industry by 2018, according to ArcView Group, which promotes investment in the cannabis industry.
Number of marijuana-related arrests in the United States in 2013, according to the FBI. About 88 percent of the arrests were for possession.
Marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug under the 1970 Controlled Substance Act, meaning it has no known medicinal use and carries a heightened potential for abuse. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, ecstasy and LSD.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated with additional information about the cost of a medical marijuana card and where those cards can be used. | (January 21, 2015)