Commission gearing up for pot hearings

The marathon hearing for the herd of medical marijuana dispensary license applicants hadn’t even begun, but Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly already appeared to have the munchies.

In an acknowledgment during Tuesday’s planning meeting that June’s pot dispensary hearing is likely to roll on like Texas, he began menu planning with commission Chairman Steve Sisolak.

Weekly joked that he would only commit to the three-day review of more than 80 dispensary applicants if Sisolak would, “be responsible for the entire meal plan every single day.”

“You’ll get fed,” Sisolak replied, later adding with little gusto, “It’s going to be a lot of hours. It’s going to be a lot of hours.”

Weekly confessed a weakness for fare from Chipotle. With so many applicants and the commission’s intriguing insistence on taking a very hands-on role in the process, providing steaming streams of Starbucks espresso might also be a good idea. Sisolak, clearly spearheading the process on the issue, will surely play barista for one and all.

Placing hard time limits on a three-day public hearing can be a logistical nightmare, but a majority of the commission came to terms with Comprehensive Planning Director Nancy Amundsen, who carved out 15-minute segments for each applicant. If all goes according to plan, a six-minute presentation will be followed by a series of two-minute questions from commissioners and three minutes for rebuttal and inquiries from concerned neighbors.

That’s right. The commission agreed to give each dispensary applicant the Andy Warhol treatment: A chance to be cannabis celebrities, but then their 15 minutes is up.

A timekeeper in a heavyweight championship is under less pressure than the bureaucrat assigned to keep the pot professionals from prattling past their designated minutes.

Sisolak made it clear the first two rows of the commission’s chambers will be reserved for the applicants. And on the process crept toward a June 4 scheduled start.

Slow talkers and those given to digression beware: The clock will be ticking.

“With 80-some-odd presentations, if each one takes a half an hour you can see what we’re going to get into here,” Sisolak said. Such a process, he said, might produce 40 hours of testimony before the selection was complete.

“We’re concerned about what we can control,” Amundsen said, noting that the portion of the hearing devoted to the actual presentation is the only part that can be limited by time.

And, remember, the June hearing will be focused only on the dispensary locations, not the grow houses and production labs. They’ll be reviewed later.

Only Commissioner Susan Brager displayed much reluctance to stick with the 15-minute game plan. She expressed concern that some issues might get short shrift and refused to decide the fate of a single dispensary until all applicants had been heard.

“I won’t vote until everything’s done,” she said.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, meanwhile, noted the apparent oddity of hearing dispensary applications separately when many of those applicants are also attempting to win approval to grow and produce the marijuana. The areas are obviously inextricably linked and part of a broader business plan.

In the many years I’ve watched the commission, I can’t recall a subject the elected officials were as willing to devote such laborious effort to reviewing before agreeing to hand out use permits. The commissioners are obviously going to great lengths to create the impression that the process is open and above board.

You’d almost think they want everyone to understand that all the politically connected investors involved aren’t influencing the process.

After three days of listening to dispensary applicants extol the virtues of their business plan and their shiny display cases, the commissioners might be tempted to ease their pain by firing up a little of the product in question.

For medicinal purposes only, of course.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.