Pubdate: Thu, 26 Sep 2013
Source: Reno News & Review (NV)
Copyright: 2013, Chico Community Publishing, Inc.
Author: Dennis Myers


Feds and State Seem on the Same Page, but Localities Balk

A few weeks ago, a California lobbyist involved in medical 
dispensaries in that state met with News & Review executives in Reno. 
He had been monitoring the new law enacted by the 2013 Nevada 
Legislature to implement a voter-approved medical marijuana measure 
intended to return marijuana to medical use for the first time in the 
state since the late 1930s.

The businessperson said that under the new Nevada law, medical 
dispensaries were going to happen very quickly.

Well, maybe not.

Although both voters and the Nevada Legislature have now authorized 
medical dispensaries, local politicians are trying to block them by 
preventing municipal implementing ordinances. Thirteen years after 
voters mandated a means of supplying patients with their medicine, it 
appears this calendar year will not yet be the time.

Lyon County Sheriff Allen Veil has asked for a county ordinance 
banning the state-authorized dispensaries outright: "Where there's 
marijuana, organized crime has a finger in it, if it's not controlled 
by them. The potential is great for abuse and money laundering and 
there's absolutely no reason Lyon County should want to be a part of 
that." The legislative sponsor of the dispensaries said that a county 
with legal prostitution was getting kind of finicky.

The Reno City Council discussed the matter in June and decided to 
wait four months before dealing with it again. Councilmember Dwight 
Dortch was particularly outspoken in opposition to medical 
dispensaries. (The council will return to the issue again this week.)

The Las Vegas City Council voted unanimously on Sept. 18 not to allow 
any dispensaries for six months.

"I anticipated the foot dragging," said Clark County Sen. Richard 
Segerblom. "As time goes on everyone will be begging to get on board. 
As long as there is one government entity in each county that will 
accept them we're OK. The legislature really can't do anything more 
until 2015, but I will be ready if we need to do something."

No one is hurrying at the state level, either. State implementing 
regulations aren't expected until the end of the year.

State vs. local

It's not well known that there are local implementing ordinances for 
state laws, because they are usually automatic. Only rarely do local 
governments balk.

In 1985, after grocery and other lobbyists pushed for it, the Nevada 
Legislature made it a misdemeanor crime to "knowingly possess ... a 
cart that has been removed from the owner's premises." Some cities, 
such as Sparks, did not enact local implementation on grounds that 
merchants should keep track of their own carts. (Sparks, in fact, 
eventually adopted an ordinance requiring store owners to follow a 
prescribed routine for getting shopping carts off city streets.)

In 1983, after the legislature enacted a measure requiring that 
children under the age of 6 must be in restraint seats while being 
transported in vehicles, the Reno City Council resisted enacting a 
local ordinance. After some bad publicity for the council, members 
reversed their stand and approved local implementation.

The municipal governments are within their rights to refuse to permit 
dispensaries, assuming they are willing to face voters. The new state 
law, sponsored by Segerblom, is "local option"-allowing municipal 
governments to decide for themselves whether to allow the facilities. 
Residents in all the counties where local governments are now 
resisting the dispensaries voted in favor of medical marijuana. There 
was a 57 percent majority in Lyon County and 67 percent majorities in 
both Clark and Washoe.

Paradoxically, the small counties-which are a hotbed of defiance of 
federal law on public land issues-are now taking refuge behind the 
fig leaf that marijuana use remains illegal under federal law.

More than 4,000 state residents have marijuana prescription cards. A 
county breakdown was not immediately available.

The dispensary legislation is a product of a court rebuke of the 
lawmakers by state Judge Donald Mosley. When Nevadans approved the 
medical marijuana ballot measure in 2000, its language instructed 
state legislators to "provide by law for ... Authorization of 
appropriate methods for supply of the plant to patients authorized to 
use it." Instead, the lawmakers adopted legislation that essentially 
said, "Grow your own"-but provided no legal way for them to acquire seeds.

In a Las Vegas case, Mosley called the state adopted by the 
legislators "ridiculous," "absurd," and unconstitutional. He found 
that legislators either botched the job of implementing the ballot 
measure or deliberately tried to undercut it: "It is apparent to 
[Mosley] that the statutory scheme set out for the lawful 
distribution of medical marijuana is either poorly contemplated or 
purposely constructed to frustrate the implementation of 
constitutionally mandated access to the substance."

Federal vs. state

Nor are local governments the only threat to medical dispensaries in Nevada.

Initially, the Obama administration adopted policies more akin to the 
Ford and Carter administrations of light regulation, in keeping with 
Barack Obama's campaign pledge that he wanted federal resources used 
"investigating violent crimes and potential terrorism" rather than 
marijuana. But then, in California in 2011, it launched intimidation, 
raids and forfeitures against medical dispensaries. That crackdown 
continues today.

That did not stop the movement. More states, by public vote or 
legislative action, started cutting themselves loose from federal 
drug policies, most dramatically in Colorado and Washington, which 
went to straight legalization and regulation.

On Aug. 29, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the feds would not 
move against those two states and would keep arms-length from 
punitive enforcement in states where marijuana is used as medicine.

But it was Holder who, in 2009, had instructed federal prosecutors 
not to "focus federal resources in your states on individuals whose 
actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state 
laws providing for the medical use of marijuana"-and then had allowed 
U.S. Attorneys in California to launch their crackdown. Indeed, after 
Holder announced his new policy, U.S. attorneys in California said 
they had no plans to change their policies. Moreover, any current 
federal enforcement let-up is good only as long as the current 
administration is in power.

Significantly, the week before Holder announced his new policy, the 
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration pressured armored car companies 
to stop serving medical dispensaries that supply marijuana-a serious 
safety threat, given the feds' previous success in convincing credit 
card companies not to allow dispensary accounts.

Earlier this year ("Manufacturing commerce," RN&R, April 25), 
Nevada's U.S. Attorney David Bogden said he was waiting for guidance 
from the attorney general before commenting on how he expects to 
handle dispensaries.

The Interim Finance Committee, which allocates funds when the full 
Nevada Legislature is out of session, has provided $520,000 for the 
Nevada Department of Taxation to create a system for collecting the 
taxes on the dispensaries and $246,000 for the Nevada Division of 
Public and Behavioral Health to set up a program for dispensaries to 
follow-if there are any.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom