Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2019

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Judge signals possible end to Nevada marijuana license hearing next week


John Locher / AP

In this July 1, 2017, file photo, a cashier rings up a marijuana sale at a cannabis dispensary in Las Vegas. A Nevada judge says she expects next week to finish hearing a case that has dozens of companies that lost bids to open retail pot stores asking her to stop the state from licensing new marijuana businesses. Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez on Friday, July 12, 2019, scheduled at least a 15th day of testimony on Monday, July 15 in Las Vegas.

Deonne Contine, the former director of the Nevada Department of Taxation, testified on Friday during a retail marijuana licensing hearing that there wasn’t anything wrong with how her department established cannabis business enforcement rules.

“I believe the regulations are valid,” Contine said. “I believed then and I believe now that the regulations were adopted under the statute, and they interpret or carry out the provisions of the statute.”

Last year, the state approved about five-dozen conditional retail cannabis licenses out of a pool of 461 applicants. Dozens of companies that lost bids teamed earlier this year to file an injunction to stop the state from issuing the licenses.

A hearing to decide the fate of the injunction is scheduled to last at least into its 15th day on Monday at the Regional Justice Center. Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, who will make a determination once the hearing concludes, said closing arguments could happen next week.

On Friday, Contine, who now heads the state’s Department of Administration, finished her second and final day on the stand. At times, she seemed exasperated by what she deemed to be repetitive.

Plaintiff lawyers questioned Contine on determinations the department made about which applicants to perform background checks on. They also questioned the work she did for a cannabis company after she left the department.

Contine said she helped WSCC Inc. with its application to the department for a retail license last year, though the company was unsuccessful in its bid.

Companies that didn’t get new licenses have so far stalled administrators’ efforts to nearly double the number of dispensaries statewide to about 125. The companies have claimed bias in the selection process and called into question the constitutionality of the competitive scoring process. Some are seeking damages while others seek a do-over.

The sides are battling over a lot of money as, from July through March, recreational and medical marijuana sales in Nevada totaled $464 million. For March alone, $59.7 million in marijuana sales were recorded, according to the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Sun publisher Brian Greenspun was part owner of Essence, one of the defendants in this case.