Richard Vogel / AP
Tuesday, March 19, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Marijuana is booming, not just in Nevada, but in states nationwide.
It’s booming so much, in fact, that sometimes it’s hard to remember it’s still illegal in many places, and, as such, states are on their own when it comes to regulating the plant.
Gov. Steve Sisolak formed an advisory panel for the creation of the Cannabis Compliance Board to help with this, comprising current and past legislators, business leaders, and legal counsel.
The panel has been tasked with helping Nevada create regulations to help the marijuana industry thrive.
Chris Giunchigliani, a former Clark County commissioner and state lawmaker, is a member of the panel. She recently sat down with the Sun to discuss the group’s goals, consumption lounges and the issues without simple solutions.
Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
What is the goal of the Cannabis Compliance Board? What are you trying to accomplish?
I believe what the governor has asked us to do — really, we’ve all been talking about making sure that we maintain the best regulatory process in the United States, and when I wrote the law in 2001 for medical, it kind of sat there. We did certain agricultural regulations, certain DMV regulations, but we weren’t a full-blown recreational state at that time. And I think the issue comes down to, "What did we do well?"
We do gaming very well in Nevada, and so conversation has been swirling for a couple of years as who really should be managing and regulating this? It started out in the Department of Health and Human Services at the state level, then by the initiative petition, it went to the Department of Taxation, so then they had to transition, for two years, everything over to Taxation. Now, what this panel is charged with is finding out if that is really the best house for it or should we make a recommendation to the Legislature for another place — that’s all we’re doing is recommendations for a bill to be drafted — that they will then consider this session.
Should it be a gaming control board? Should it be like a gaming commission? Should it be just a compliance board and who should be on that board and what would be the makeup? That’s the initial piece and then under that thread, the governor has additional things — such as let’s look at consumption lounges, let’s look at social equity issues. So those other threads, we will be making recommendations for inclusion in the bill draft.
It’s not a criticism of what state agencies are doing now, it’s a recognition that’s its now much larger than what anybody anticipated. Therefore, you need a better compliance structure and better staffing — what we’ve had is half a person doing the audit when Oregon has three full-time people. So, what should that board look like and how many staff should they be and what should be under it?
So, think with Mr. (J. Brin) Gibson chairing it with his background in gaming and regulation and then Dennis Neilander, who used to be chair of the gaming commission, you bring that thought process. We don’t want to be exactly the same because that took 60 years to get to where they are, but if we could at least focus on compliance, audit, consistency and staffing, so that those in the industry know that they can count on a consistent application.
How do you balance pushes for regulation with parties that may not want as much regulation?
I would agree you don’t want to over-regulate anybody — you don’t need 10,000 regulations in place. It’s really the structure that we’re looking at. So to make sure that it’s smooth, it’s easy to understand and I think that’s why — I don’t think, personally, that you need a gaming control board and a gaming commission for example.
Keep it simple — what is it you’re trying to manage? That may be compliance, under that is audit, under that is your tax reporting. What should that look like so you’re not over-regulating? Maybe it’s pulling from other places, removing that burden on them so that they can focus on what their general mission is and then allow this board to become the one that actually handles that.
Has there been any movement on a decision on consumption lounges?
No. I’m charged with chairing that work session with (board member and UNLV professor) Jennifer Roberts, and so I’ve got to call into UNLV because I’d like to see if they’d let us hold like an evening forum just to get public and industry input. I talked to the Nevada Resort Association the other day, so I got their input. I will talk to Metro Police — I just emailed the sheriff. But I want to make sure I listen to the folks up north as well as in the rural counties.
The city of Las Vegas is moving forward allegedly with an ordinance this next week and we’re thinking, “Well, wait a minute, you don’t really have authority under state law to just create consumption lounges.” At least counties don’t, as they’re less authorized by statute. Cities maybe can under their charter, but I don’t think their charter calls for it. I don’t know what’s going to happen with their vote next week.
What I would even argue, as much as I’m a city resident, is “wait for the panel to come up with some recommendations that we can put in a bill that the public can then weigh in on in a public, transparent way.” Because if you do one thing and 100 other cities do it differently, you’re adding problems to actual usage and putting people at risk in the long run. I’m hoping that they’ll wait, but we’ll see what happens.
Clark County has pumped the brakes on its Green Ribbon Advisory Panel, right?
They punted it to this panel. They didn’t take a position.
I spoke with Rep. Mark Amodei the other day, and he raised concerns about the inability of many cannabis-related businesses to use banks. Is that an issue the board will tackle?
We can’t. I mean, we talked about it. We spent an entire meeting on banking. We don’t really have the authority, so we need the feds to give us a mechanism. It’s hypocritical that the IRS will accept cash from these folks that they still deem are illegal, but they won’t give them some process where it’s safer, where you can actually account for those dollars and get rid of the cash-based business that always puts people at risk.
I’m glad the congressman and probably our entire delegation is on board with trying to look at some kind of methodology federally. We could not find a way after our hearing for the state to actually get into the banking issue, whether it was a credit union or our own state bank. None of that is allowed.
Have there been any issues involving people driving under the influence of marijuana?
I raised that at the last meeting and then a little bit Friday. I tried to write the drunk-driving law back in 2001, when I had a bill draft on that. Then-Sen. Tick Segerblom did get some language in NRS, but it doesn’t deal with impairment. You can’t put people at risk because THC stays in your system for quite a while, but that doesn’t mean that they’re impaired, that they’re not employable, that they’re not able to drive.
So, under consumption lounges we have to deal with “how do you get in and out?”
If that’s what we recommend, do you put more people at risk on the road for drugged driving? I don’t want that to happen either, so I’ve been doing research to bring that up for the public discussion that we could at least make a recommendation.
They did change the testing from urine to blood so that was a good change back in 2017, but we didn’t do the right nanogram amount. They kept it in the nanograms that was the lowest in the United States and then you put people at risk of being picked up for drunk driving, which really isn’t the intent. I know Metro has some data. I just asked the sheriff if he could share that with me, but I don’t know how accurate that is because they weren’t always testing for the right thing.
Has there been any issue with children getting into their parents’ stashes?
I have to say no, that’s not come up — which is a good thing in the long run. We wanted children to be educated but parents have to be responsible if they’re users in the home. It’s no different than if you have a gun. You really need to look at how you educate and prepare that safety.
Luckily, because the advertising is very restricted, you can’t just market to something that would tease the youth into it. I did hear on NPR the other day that vape use is up with young adults. That’s not necessarily anything that has been raised here, but it does come down still to adult responsibility with what they do with their children. They’re not going to be smoking cigarettes to just vaping all the time.
I know Sheldon Adelson was against legalization, and it seems the casino industry itself isn’t very excited about it. Have you received any pushback from that direction?
No, their issue is — well, they may not want consumption lounges. They do understand that some of their clientele needs to go someplace because they’re illegally smoking in the hotel rooms. They are just very cautious because of the federal government. Until the feds open up some of this, they just don’t want to be participating. So, it’s not an opposition, per se, it’s really just like “don’t drag us into this, we want to make sure our gaming license is untouched and kept clean.”
So, I know that they’ve been monitoring what the city has been doing. I don’t know that they’ve taken a position one way or another other than “why are you moving forward while the panel’s making recommendations? Why don’t you wait?”
Is the board tackling the issue of suspending sentences? Is that under your purview?
No, I wish it were, but there’s some legislation this session that’s looking at that part. I’m working with a social justice coalition and we have ending cash bail, releasing people that are just in for marijuana use or a small amount of sales, so I know that they’re looking at that legislatively.
Have there been any unforeseen challenges in this process?
The only challenge is really the timing. With Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno and Sen. Yvanna Cancela having to be in session, when can you properly meet?
So, Fridays have been our only time so you don’t conflict and slow down the other committees that they’re on. Same thing for J. Brin Gibson because he is the counsel to the governor, so he’s got a wide variety of issues right now from plutonium coming in to dealing with marijuana. But they’ve been pretty good about juggling that schedule. The timing of all that has been a little complicated, but they did a really good job of a great overview the first two meetings and it was long and boring probably for some but you need to know where you were to know where you’re going. I found it very helpful.