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October 21, 2017

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AG: Calif. doctor’s notes not valid at Nevada marijuana dispensaries

Dispensaries stunned by stance, cite potential ‘devastating’ effect on business

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L.E. Baskow

Some of the merchandise available during the Grand Opening Celebration and Open House for The+Source marijuana dispensary on Saturday, January 30, 2016.

Medical marijuana dispensaries should no longer be able to accept California doctors’ recommendations from out-of-state patients to purchase in Nevada, according to an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office, sent this week to the Department of Health and Human Services.

In a letter from Attorney General Adam Laxalt to health department Director Richard Whitley, obtained by the Sun on Friday, Laxalt’s office responds to two department inquiries on the Silver State’s medical marijuana program: whether patients can use a copy of a completed application at a Nevada dispensary to purchase medical marijuana, and whether out-of-state residents should be allowed to use a California physician's note to purchase medical marijuana. Laxalt advised against both practices.

“A recommendation from a California physician ad (sic) a driver’s license from another state cannot be used to obtain medical marijuana from a Nevada dispensary,” the letter said.

The letter and subsequent recommendations came as a surprise to Nevada dispensary owners, who said they were unaware that Whitley had reached out to the Attorney General’s Office. Some went as far as to call the potential effect of the letter “devastating” to business and patients they claim rely on such measures to purchase marijuana while in town.

“Not only (is it important) for our business, but for the patients who need medicine when they’re visiting here,” said David Goldwater, owner of Inyo Fine Cannabis Dispensary, 2520 S. Maryland Pkwy.

Goldwater, who estimated his clientele is about 60 percent Nevada cardholders and 40 percent out-of-state buyers, said his business model would change “drastically” if patients with California doctor's notes were barred from buying at Inyo.

He argued that over 90 percent of an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million California medical marijuana users choose a physician’s recommendation over a state-issued medical marijuana card to avoid additional costs and registering with the state.

“We should be able to respect those states and those patients who prefer not to register with them,” Goldwater said.

Andrew Jolley, owner of The+Source dispensary, 2550 S. Rainbow Blvd, said that while most of his customers are from Nevada, California residents living part-time in the Las Vegas Valley also shop at his dispensary. He said shutting off access to patients with only doctor's notes would “literally affect tens of thousands of people.”

“If the department enacts this measure, these patients are going to be extremely disappointed,” Jolley said. “And in some cases, their health will be affected.”

Nevada authorities have interpreted its medical marijuana reciprocity law — which, under NRC 453A, says out-of-state patients using the “functional equivalent of a registry identification card” — to include doctor’s notes in addition to state-issued medical cards. Under the new recommendation, that no longer includes California doctor’s notes, even if they’re valid in other states.

Although the Health and Human Services Department solicited an opinion, the Attorney General’s Office’s recommendation doesn’t change the law.

A hint of potential change began in April, when dispensary owners were sent an email titled "420 Tours warning." The email, obtained by the Sun, refers to a popular Las Vegas marijuana “tour company” in which business owner Drew Gennuso arranges for out-of-state customers to obtain a medical marijuana doctor’s note through a Skype chat with a California doctor in the back seat of his “Cannabus” SUV.

The patients, frequently picked up on the Strip, describe their symptoms, receive a doctor’s recommendation printed on the spot and are taken to a Las Vegas dispensary of their choice, sometimes all in a span of less than 15 minutes.

“You have to say some kind of pain or insomnia or something like that,” said Oregon resident and 420 Tours customer Swan Rhodes, 26, earlier this year. “Just give them something.”

The email advised that dispensaries discovered selling marijuana to tour-bus clients could lose their registration certificates and be shut down.

Gennuso did not respond to multiple requests for comment Friday.

Nevada State Sen. Patricia Farley, who, along with state Sen. Tick Segerblom, has championed medical marijuana in the state Legislature, said the recent crackdown was taken to ensure the “legitimacy” of Nevada’s medical marijuana industry. Farley said no potential action on the attorney general’s recommendation will hit Nevada dispensaries for “at least a couple weeks,” although dialogue between dispensary owners, the Health and Human Services Department, legislators and other agencies could start as early as next week.

Farley said she plans to present an opinion from the Legislative Council Bureau, in favor of keeping California physician notes as part of the reciprocity measure, to consider as a counter argument against the Laxalt’s recommendation. The LCB opinion has not yet been released to the public.

The Nevada Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Interviewed dispensary owners called the first measure of Laxalt's recommendation — use of a copy of a completed application at a Nevada dispensary to purchase medical marijuana — “insignificant," because state processing of medical marijuana cards has been expedited. Prospective Nevada patients can now be approved for a medical marijuana card on the same day they apply, thanks to a new Las Vegas-based Division of Public and Behavioral Health office, which opened last month. The approval is valid in medical marijuana dispensaries for as long as 60 days until that person’s card is received.

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