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June 24, 2019

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How Nevada pot industry works to keep dispensaries clean, safe

Marijuana Attorney Amanda Conner

Wade Vandervort

Attorney Amanda Connor is interviewed at her office in Las Vegas, Monday, July 17, 2017.

Since recreational marijuana became legal in Nevada in 2017, the state has passed hundreds of regulations on the cultivation, sale and consumption of the product. Many of these regulations outline sanitation and hygiene requirements that the thousands of employees in the industry must follow.

To help pot workers meet these requirements, the Nevada Dispensary Association on Tuesday hosted a course on sanitation and hygiene regulations for marijuana facilities. Led by Amanda Connor, an attorney who represents marijuana establishments throughout the state, the hour-and-a-half-long course focused on personal hygiene standards for employees and sanitation requirements for facilities.

In its effort to provide resources and support for safe marijuana dispensaries, the association regularly offers courses about industry compliance and best practices, said Riana Durrett, the association’s executive director. Nevada has some of the strictest marijuana regulations in the country, according to Durrett, and sanitation requirements are no exception.

“In Nevada’s industry in particular, we have a very big emphasis on cleanliness and orderliness,” she said.

Keeping up to code can be costly for facilities, but violations can be even more expensive. Depending on the severity of the violation, facilities can be fined up to $10,000 if they break a rule, or have their license suspended. For less serious violations, facilities must simply demonstrate how they will correct the problem.

“There are different tiers of violations in our regulations, going from less severe to most severe, so it would depend on where that violation falls,” Connor said.

The state Department of Taxation, which creates and enforces the regulations, inspects facilities by law at least twice a year — once with notice, and once by surprise. But on average, facilities are checked every four to six weeks, Connor said.

Sanitation requirements vary from hand-washing methods and clothing mandates for employees to the setup and layout of the facility. Regulations for production facilities that create edible marijuana products are even stricter, Durrett said.

LCB File No. R092-17, which outlines many of the retail marijuana regulations, lists these rules as well as the tests required for marijuana prior to sale, including for potency, moisture content, heavy metal content, pesticide residue, Salmonella, yeast, mold and more. Marijuana products must not exceed certain levels of these elements, or in the case of some contaminants, must be completely free of them.

The most common sanitation violations, Connor said, relate to how and when to document hygiene and sanitation compliance. The bulk of Tuesday’s course covered these documentation rules.

“The facilities are really good about sanitation and cleaning, but there’s a lot in the regulations about documenting everything that transpires. Often that is the common deficiency,” Connor said.

Nonetheless, Durrett believes that most facilities successfully comply with the state’s hundreds of regulations.

“When the facilities were new, there were growing pains and so maybe there were some deficiencies … while the facilities learned what was required,” she said. “But there are not rampant violations by any means.”

Perhaps this is because the state and the industry have emphasized consumer safety ever since medical marijuana use was first legalized in 2001, Durrett said.

“The mindset from the beginning was, ‘We have to be the strictest in the country, we have to learn from other states, and we have to protect everyone involved,’” she said.

Nevada’s comprehensive regulations for the gaming industry have in some ways served as a model for the younger recreational marijuana industry. Gov. Steve Sisolak signed an executive order on Jan. 25 to establish a marijuana advisory panel that would create guidelines for a proposed Cannabis Compliance Board, similar to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

“Nevada’s gaming industry is seen as the international gold standard and there is no reason we cannot take steps to ensure our marijuana industry is viewed the same way,” Sisolak said in a statement.

Both Durrett and Connor see the state’s strict regulations as beneficial for marijuana producers and consumers.

“I think Nevada’s regulations are very stringent, but I think it’s good that we have very high standards, so our consumers know they’re getting a safe product,” Connor said.