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July 17, 2018

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20 ways legal marijuana has affected Nevada

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John Locher / AP

People wait in line at the Essence cannabis dispensary in Las Vegas, Saturday, July 1, 2017, as recreational sales of marijuana begin.

Friday marks Nevada’s first 4/20 since recreational marijuana sales were legalized last July. With more than 45 dispensaries in the Las Vegas Valley and 62 statewide expecting increased sales for the unofficial pot holiday, here’s a look at 20 ways that legal weed has affected our state:

1. More cannabis products

After waiting more than two years for recreational sales to begin, many of the state’s 205 combined cultivation and production facilities have more than doubled the quantity of pot products they manufacture and distribute to meet the demand from increased dispensary sales, said Riana Durrett, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association.

2. Increased tax revenue

More than $35.9 million was collected by the Nevada Department of Taxation from a combined 15 percent wholesale tax for medical and recreational pot and a 10 percent excise tax on recreational weed sales, from July 1 to January 31. Revenue from the wholesale tax is allocated to fund state and local government regulation of the industry, and what’s left is deposited into the Distributive School Account. Revenue from the excise tax is deposited in the Nevada Rainy Day Fund.

3. It made legal weed profitable

Almost all marijuana dispensaries in the medical-only model from 2015 through mid-2017 lost money after factoring in expenses and a federal tax rate of about 70 percent (compared with a tax rate of about 30 percent for regular, federally legal businesses). On July 1 of last year, marijuana businesses became profitable overnight as recreational sales saw customer bases multiply tenfold.

4. It’s made business owners’ investments worth the money

Some owners say they’re just now starting to make money on their original investment in marijuana establishments, which include testing labs and cultivation and production facilities, as well as dispensaries.

5. Fewer patients are participating in the state’s medical marijuana program

The number of medical marijuana cardholders in Nevada fell from about 28,300 in May 2017 to about 21,700 through February 2018, according to numbers from the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

6. Recreational marijuana gave medical buyers anonymous access to the plant

Instead of applying and paying for a state-licensed medical card, many are opting to buy the same product recreationally, said Nevada State Sen. Tick Segerblom. While recreational buyers pay 10 percent more on their pot purchases than medical patients, they’re offered the privacy of not submitting their names to the state.

7. It provided competition for the black market

While no one in Nevada’s marijuana industry will deny illegal cultivators and sellers are still found in abundance across the state, those black market dealers now have competition. David Goldwater, owner of Inyo

Fine Cannabis Dispensary, said most new marijuana customers are choosing legal weed at dispensaries where strict testing standards and childproof bags are mandated.

8. … But the black market is also benefiting from legal pot

As more dispensaries and customers enter Nevada’s legal marijuana industry, so do more “bad actors” piggybacking on the names of legal pot businesses. Four interviewed dispensary owners said they’ve

found illegal dealers using their dispensaries’ logos on Facebook or other third-party online marketplace pages to advertise illegal deals.

9. Legalization has provided a wide range of pricing on the plant ...

… which benefits consumers, industry members say. In an industry where consumers pay close attention to price, according to Inyo’s Goldwater, competition has allowed better deals for pot buyers.

Unfortunately, that competition also extends to the black market, Goldwater said. Illegal sellers can undercut the legal industry’s prices, because they avoid taxes and costs of testing the plant at local labs.

10. It created jobs

Almost 7,000 new jobs had been added by the fledgling industry through December, according to the most recent figures from the Nevada Dispensary Association.

11. There are more real estate investments

More than $300 million has been invested in real estate by marijuana companies, as a matter of fact.

12. It put pressure on financial institutions to find banking solutions … or be bypassed

As cryptocurrencies continue to grow in the marijuana space, some interviewed dispensary owners believe digital currencies to be a viable alternative to banks for the currently all-cash business.

13. For now, it put more cash on the streets

As marijuana business owners still search for banking solutions, some are still stuck with tens of thousands of dollars of cash on hand and no willing outlet to take their deposit. As a result, they have turned to grocery store money orders or even using Febreze spray to mask the pot scent when they deposit their marijuana profits.

14. More people have access to herbal medicine

While many are buying the plant for its psychedelic effects, adults also purchase the plant to treat a variety of illnesses, ranging from pain and soreness to cancerous tumors, said Andrew Jolley of the Source dispensary. The opportunity to purchase the plant legally and without a prescription has made a long-used remedy for many illnesses more accessible.

15. More pets have access, too

Cannabidiol (CBD)-based dog and cat foods have also found their way into the legal weed market. While these products contain only trace amounts of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychedelic ingredient found in marijuana, their high CBD content can help pets problems such as pain, anxiety and lack of energy.

16. More precise DUI measures for marijuana

As part of the framework to set up the recreational marijuana industry, the 2017 Nevada Legislature passed a law to remove urine and saliva from marijuana DUI tests, leaving only blood tests to determine the level of marijuana concentrates in a person’s body when he or she is arrested. The blood-only method was praised by state Sen. Segerblom as being more accurate than other tests, which can show marijuana metabolites days and sometimes weeks after a person uses the plant.

17. Demand for lounges

Nevada law still doesn’t allow for a legal place to consume marijuana other than a person’s private residence. That includes hotel-casinos, where many of the Las Vegas Valley’s 43 million annual tourists stay during their vacations here. With Denver, San Francisco and cities in Massachusetts all opening cannabis lounges, pressure has been on state and local officials to find a solution to the ongoing consumption problem.

18. Amnesty bins at the airport

Clark County officials voted to place amnesty bins—places where pot users can leave their marijuana behind before hopping on a plane—at McCarran International Airport. The bins were installed in February.

19. Big boost for a local tribe

The Las Vegas Paiute Tribe in October opened the 15,500 square-foot NuWu Cannabis Marketplace on tribal lands near Downtown Las Vegas. It’s now one of the Valley’s most popular dispensaries, serving more than 1,000 pot buyers each day, according to tribal officials.

20. It’s a challenge for casinos

The federally regulated casino industry has wanted no part in the federally illegal plant’s expansion in Nevada, and the Nevada Gaming Control Board has made that sentiment clear. Casinos caught allowing marijuana use on their premises risk losing their gaming licenses, control board officials said last year. But without a place to legally smoke the plant, tourists staying in casinos are likely to sneak and consume marijuana in their hotel rooms, or in popular areas like the Strip and Downtown Las Vegas.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.