Las Vegas Sun

November 17, 2018

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Sisolak calls for clearer marijuana regulations, banking aid for dispensaries

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Miranda Alam/Special to Sun

Steve Sisolak, Clark County Commission chairman and Nevada gubernatorial candidate, receives a tour from Adam Bierman, co-founder and CEO of MedMen, during the grand opening of the Paradise location of MedMen in Las Vegas on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.

Working toward a clearer definition of some of Nevada’s marijuana policies would be at the top of Steve Sisolak’s priorities if elected governor next month.

Speaking at a marijuana town hall Monday with State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, and marijuana business attorneys Riana Durrett and Amanda Connor, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate said building a bridge for marijuana companies and banks to work together would increase the safety of the currently cash-only business.

“These are issues we need to step up and address,” said Sisolak during the event at the Enclave event venue. “The toughest problem being in this business is the uncertainty of it.”

Sisolak, chairman of the Clark County Commission, said state officials needed to have more say in determining marijuana laws, not local municipalities. He called for the establishment of a marijuana control board to assist the Nevada Department of Taxation with regulations and enforcement.

“That way there’s no ambiguity about it,” he said. “Everyone will have to play by the same rules.”

Sisolak, who stressed his intentions to move the industry forward, said proposed marijuana lounges have become a daunting task for lawmakers to get clarity on. Sisolak said launching the lounges without implementing a ride-sharing requirement could make the lounges dangerous because high customers would be on the roads after a visit. Also, a free-for-all licensing structure could oversaturate the market with owners who don’t follow the same safety standards as dispensaries.

Both Sisolak and Segerblom touched on the tax rate for marijuana purchases, saying the current 32 to 38 percent charged for recreational marijuana was appropriate. They agreed lowering taxes on medical marijuana, perhaps to remove a 15 percent wholesale tax on shipments of the plant from cultivation and production facilities to dispensaries, would help rebuild the state’s medical marijuana program. Since peaking at 28,000 cardholders in early 2017, the state’s medical marijuana program has diminished to just 16,000 cardholders as more Nevadans are choosing anonymity and convenience over modest savings.

While medical cardholders pay 10 percent less tax than recreational buyers, their purchases are tracked by a state registry. Getting a medical card can cost up to $200 in a mandated doctor’s recommendation and state application fees. The politicians’ stated commitment to the medical program drew applause from the audience on hand.

Segerblom, who is seeking election to the Clark County Commission, said if elected he’d work with state officials to help offenders in the county convicted of low-level marijuana possession crimes in the past to have those crimes expunged from their records. That includes people who possessed or used less than 1 ounce of the plant, he said.

Segerblom and Sisolak said the state should not charge previous pot criminals a fee nor require them to fill out paperwork to have their records cleaned of the offense.

The two also said working Nevadans should not be punished for having marijuana in their system when drug tested at work or by law enforcement for driving under the influence, given they’re not inebriated when tested.

“If you drink a beer on Saturday night, you won’t get fired on Monday morning,” Segerblom said. “If you smoke a joint on Saturday night, you shouldn’t get fired on Monday morning, either.”

An otherwise peaceful town hall Monday turned briefly confrontational when a man sitting in the front row challenged the politicians on their goals of having the low-level marijuana crimes vacated.

Raising his voice as he described being raided by the FBI for an illegal dispensary he operated earlier this decade, the man said he was issued a felony charge, to which he later pleaded guilty and served jail time. In Nevada, a person with previous felony charges is banned from entering the legal marijuana industry.

As the man pleaded for the ability to enter the now-legal industry, the Nevada officials said they couldn’t do anything to expunge a federal crime. But they said they had the legal authority to offer an exception for the man to get involved on the state level. As the man’s voice grew louder, he shouted to the Segerblom sitting directly in front of him whether that meant the longtime state senator was going to make an exception for him, if elected.

“Yes, I am,” Segerblom replied.