Published Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 | 10:09 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 | 11:45 p.m.
Nevadans voted Tuesday to legalize recreational marijuana for adults ages 21 and over. The passing of Question 2, by a margin of six points according to early polling results, allows for the legal purchase of up to 1 ounce of marijuana or up to one-eighth ounce of marijuana concentrates such as wax, carbon dioxide oil and shatter.
Under the law, recreational users will also be allowed to buy marijuana paraphernalia such as bongs and glass pipes. Those living outside a 25-mile radius of the closest Nevada marijuana dispensary will be permitted to cultivate up to six marijuana plants at home for personal use, as long as it’s away from public view.
Las Vegas dispensary owners praised Tuesday’s vote, calling it “huge” for business, while state officials and proponents of Ballot Question 2 emphasized its financial benefit to state coffers.
“All I know is that it’s going to be positive for decriminalizing the plant and it’s going to generate tax revenue for the state,” said Armen Yemenidjian, president and CEO of the three Essence Cannabis Dispensaries in the Las Vegas Valley. “It’s a win-win.”
“It’s the right thing to do and I’m happy for this exciting chapter in our state's history,” added Andrew Jolley, owner of The Source dispensaries in Las Vegas and Henderson.
Recreational marijuana is estimated to bring more than $1.1 billion in tax revenue and economic activity over the course of the law’s initial eight years, according to a study by Las Vegas-based RCG Economics. While most of Las Vegas’ more 42 million annual visitors come to the valley for its variety of gaming and entertainment options, RCG Principal John Restrepo said adult-use marijuana will draw a “small yet notable” addition of weed-specific tourists here.
Tax revenue generated by recreational marijuana will go toward the state’s general tax fund, and be used to support Nevada schools and public education, as well as regulation of the adult-use program, said Nevada State Sen. Tick Segerblom, who championed the medical marijuana program in the 2013 state legislature and helped put in action the framework for the 66 currently-operating medical marijuana facilities statewide.
“Really it’s perfect for Nevada, it’s going to fit with our image,” Segerblom said. “It’s great for tourism and taxes and it’s great for our youth minority population.”
But while recreational marijuana is now legal in Nevada, the plant may not be available for legal sale until Jan. 1, 2018, as state legislators scramble to craft out the final framework for issuing licenses to dispensaries and properly regulating the industry. The Legislature is also in charge of consolidating Nevada’s recreational and medical marijuana programs under state bureaus.
Among the Legislature’s top priorities is moving oversight of the medical marijuana program from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Taxation, joining the proposed regulatory state body for recreational marijuana. The move to the taxation department will mirror how alcohol is regulated in Nevada. The department monitors alcohol sales and revenue while business regulations and enforcements for violators of the law are handled by counties and cities on the local level.
For the first 18 months after recreational marijuana goes into law, current medical marijuana state registration certificate holders (dispensary owners) will have priority on building new facilities for recreational marijuana. That includes new dispensaries, cultivation and testing facilities as well as manufacturing facilities for paraphernalia.
Both Yemenidjian and Jolley said they plan to expand their current medical marijuana stores into dual marijuana facilities, offering products for both recreational and medical buyers. They said the quality of both their recreational and marijuana products will be the same, the only difference will be slightly higher prices for recreational customers due to higher combined state and county taxes.
After the 18-month period for dispensary owners to get their crack at the new licenses, the general public will also be able to join the industry and build their own facilities.
But the Nevada Department of Taxation will limit licenses per county by the county's population. In Clark County, up to 80 retail marijuana store licenses can be issued. For smaller counties, like those with less than 55,000 residents, just two licenses will be available.
Editor’s note: Brian Greenspun, the CEO, publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun, has an ownership interest in Essence Cannabis Dispensary.