Pubdate: Thu, 29 Dec 2016
Source: Spectrum, The ( St. George, UT)
Copyright: 2016 The Spectrum
Author: Kevin Jenkins

 Voter-approved recreational drug use expansion set to take effect with
new year, but regulations still in development

Marijuana grows in an illegal Southern Utah cultivation in this file photo
(Photo: The Spectrum & Daily News file photo)

On Sunday, the recreational use of marijuana will become legal in Nevada
following passage of the state's "Question 2" during this year's

The law will allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of
cannabis or one-eighth ounce of cannabis concentrate with the start of the
new year, but the need for Nevada to establish a licensing and taxation
infrastructure means it will be a while yet before individuals can
actually buy pot if they don't already have a medical marijuana
prescription card.

"A lot of them seem to think that when Jan. 1 hits, everything's going to
be legal and open. But it's going to take a while to set a template," said
Jim Bergen, a dispensary manager at Mesquite's Deep Roots Harvest medical
marijuana outlet.

Deep Roots opened in two buildings with a 90,000-square-foot footprint in
August following Nevada's legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes
in 2014. As such, the Mesquite company is ideally poised to begin offering
marijuana for recreational use as well if the state follows the precedent
set in Oregon and other states where first medical marijuana and then
recreational marijuana were legalized.

In those states, already operating medical pot dispensaries were allowed
to fast-track recreational sales authorization while their governments
worked through regulations for the industry.

Lengthy recreational marijuana discussion gets tabled at council

In Nevada, the Department of Taxation is responsible for developing
licensing qualifications and procedures, as well as the regulation of
businesses that deal in the drug's cultivation, distribution and retail

The law allows the agency until January 2018 to finalize the rules for
legal sales.

"The Department is already working to develop temporary regulations,"
Deonne Contine, the agency's executive director, stated in a news release
following last month's elections. "We intend to hold a public workshop
very early in 2017 and then have our temporary regulations adopted so we
can begin issuing licenses."

In the meantime, the department will be working on permanent regulations,
which ultimately need to be reviewed by the Legislative Counsel Bureau,
according to the news release.

"To set that for July 1 would be hopeful," Bergen said, anticipating that
it may be closer to the end of the year before Deep Roots can begin
recreational-use sales.

Especially since the Mesquite City Council has yet to establish how the
city will respond to the new law.

Section 2-14-1 (8) of the municipal code states, "Nothing in this chapter
shall be construed to pave the way for the legalization of 'recreational'
marijuana. The city council further finds that, should the citizens of the
state of Nevada ever vote to legalize recreational marijuana, such
legalization shall not be approved in the city of Mesquite without
approval of the voters in Mesquite on a local referendum, barring any
action of the legislature to make such legalization mandatory in all
Nevada's cities and towns."

Joe Brezny (seated) and Jimmy Stracner (with mic) were in Mesquite to
speak to citizens about each side of Ballot Question 2, which if approved
would legalize recreational marijuana in Nevada. Brezny represents the
"Yes" camp, while Stracner represents the "No" camp. (Photo: Lucas

Since cities can decide whether to allow recreational marijuana sales
within their limits, Deep Roots representatives are pressing the council
to declare its intent. But following a "lengthy discussion" Dec. 13, the
council tabled any further consideration until Jan. 10 with the
expectation of developing the city's stance before the legislative session
begins Jan. 25.

Deep Roots' closest competition is in Las Vegas, but Bergen said he
expects expansion of the allowed use to bring in more customers and more
businesses selling marijuana.

"If someone is coming in recreationally, they almost certainly are from
out of state," Bergen said, drawing on his experience in Colorado when the
drug's use was legalized there. "Initially, we'll likely see the price of
cannabis rise, then eventually drop off."


Southern Utah could feel secondhand effect of marijuana votes

But the delay in establishing a legal infrastructure could be a boon for
underground operations since users can possess marijuana as long as they
aren't caught illegally buying it.

"My personal fear is that, because we don't have a process to purchase it,
that it's going to create a black market, where the product will be
inferior because it won't be grown and tested the way our medical product
is," Nevada Sen. Tick Segerblom told the Nevada News Service. "And it
won't be taxed, so the state won't be getting the revenue that we hope to
get from legalized marijuana."

Segerblom said he'll propose a legislative bill in February to immediately
allow medical marijuana dispensaries to sell their product to people over
21, even if they don't have a medical marijuana card.

The law allows marijuana sales to be taxed at a 15 percent rate.

"In Oregon, when they did an early-start program through their medical
program, their taxes were $5 million a month, the first month that it was
implemented," he said. "And Oregon is about the same size as Nevada and
actually has a much smaller tourism base, so I think $5 million is a very
conservative estimate."

Segerblom said he anticipates Nevada will make $60 million per year taxing
the drug purchases as sales become legal statewide.

There are about 60 dispensaries licensed to sell medical marijuana in
Nevada, though some aren't in operation yet. About 25,000 Nevadans have
medical marijuana cards, a number that grows by a thousand people per
month, according to the news service.

Segerblom said his early-start bill would not require recreational users
to be registered in any state database.


Deep Roots offers first look at medical marijuana facility

Bergen added that Nevada is the only state where medical marijuana is
legal that has a reciprocity agreement with the other states, allowing an
Oregon or Colorado medical marijuana patient to present a prescription
card out of state and receive services.

"A lot of patients who've come in since (voters determined we're) going
recreational have asked, 'Should we just get rid of our medical cards?'"
he said. "My strong advice has been, 'No.' Because I would think the
recreational and medical market would be taxed different. I'm almost sure
of it. If somebody comes in on a flight and they're playing golf,
(recreational marijuana use for them) might be double the price."

Southern Utah's proximity to Southern Nevada has generated concern about
the new law within Utah's drug rehabilitation industry, especially in
light of the possibility that children will come within a marijuana
smoker's orbit.

"As prevention and treatment specialists who deal with drug use and
addiction every day, we are very concerned about the slackening in laws
surrounding this psychoactive drug," Logan Reid, the director of
Prevention and Education Services at the Southwest Behavioral Health
Center, told The Spectrum last month.

"Research shows marijuana can damage the teen brain, cause addiction,
affect memory and learning, decrease motivation, increase onset of mental
illness and impair motor skills. Lawmakers should adopt drug policies that
promote a healthy community -- no smoking, vaporizing, or eating
marijuana," he said. "More people are receiving treatment for marijuana
addiction than any other illicit drug."

In this April 20, 2016, file photo, a video screen displays different
strains of marijuana for sale during the opening day of the marijuana
dispensary at Blum in Las Vegas. (Photo: AP)

And Brian Besser, Drug Enforcement Administration District Agent in Charge
over the state of Utah, reaffirmed the federal agency's opposition to
reducing the classification of marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug to
Schedule 2, which some advocates are seeking as part of an effort to study
marijuana's medicinal value.

"DEA does not recognize marijuana as having any medical use," he said,
citing a 180-page report published in September by the Rocky Mountain High
Intensity Drug Trafficking Area's Investigative Support Center. "What
other type of medical product do you smoke? DEA refuses to ignore the
scientific data."

Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Todd Royce said the state's drug interdiction
efforts are "pretty robust" and he doesn't anticipate a change in the
agency's staffing or the establishment of checkpoints as a result of the
Nevada law's passage.

"The laws haven't changed here so if people bring marijuana into the
state, it's still illegal," he said. "We'll follow the laws of this state
and they will face charges."

Bergen, for his part, said Nevada's medical marijuana policy has helped
drug users in a different sense.

"Percentages of our patients use their medical cards to wean off the
opioid pills the doctors are prescribing," he said, opining that
painkillers are too easy to obtain and more harmful.

"States (that legalize drug use) like that are backward in their
thinking," Bergen said. "People picking on the cannabis industry are
either under-educated or improperly educated."
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