Medical marijuana dispensaries dominated the day Wednesday in Clark County and Las Vegas, with county officials working on specifics of operations and city officials voting 5-2 for a motion to tell staff to research options but stopping short of saying “go forward.”
Councilman Ricki Barlow’s cautiously worded motion passed despite opposition from council members Lois Tarkanian and Stavros Anthony, who read his strong resistance to the idea of opening dispensaries within the city, citing studies critical of medical marijuana and questioning whether it really has a medical purpose.
All the public comment was from people favoring the dispensaries, including patients who described how it helped their pain.
“We’re setting the stage to move in that direction of legalizing marijuana,” Tarkanian warned, referring to recreational use.
Barlow’s motion directed staff to research plans and develop options while working with the county, which is further along in making the dispensaries a reality. The county’s proposal is expected to be up for a vote in March.
It’s unlikely the city will even have a proposal by March 17, the date its moratorium on dispensaries expires.
After the meeting, Councilman Bob Coffin, the most vocal advocate of medical marijuana, insisted the vote was one to go forward with creating dispensaries despite explanations from Barlow and Mayor Carolyn Goodman that it was not the go-ahead vote.
Goodman expressed concern the city might lose its chance to open dispensaries if the council continued a moratorium past the March 17 deadline.
Barlow said he would have voted no because of a lack of information if the motion had been the more definitive “go forward.” He said he had never tried marijuana because his late mother was so serious about warning him against drugs. Except for Coffin volunteering he had tried pot a few times, no one else volunteered whether they inhaled.
Goodman was specific that she was trying to preserve the right to proceed with 10 dispensaries in the city but still considered the sale a felony because of federal laws, even if they aren’t enforced under the Obama administration.
Coffin said that there are four solid votes to create the dispensaries and that despite what Barlow said for public consumption, Barlow was a solid yes with Coffin, Bob Beers and Steve Ross. Coffin wasn’t sure whether Goodman will eventually vote for creating dispensaries.
County officials, meanwhile, talked Wednesday about what the county should look at when it regulates medical marijuana. An ordinance proposal will be up for a vote in March.
Don’t expect a tiny, limited medical marijuana zone for dispensaries to set up shop in unincorporated areas of the county. What’s likelier is for medical marijuana dispensaries to be spread throughout the county, providing easier access for residents. That concept emerged Wednesday.
County officials didn’t take any final action at the meeting. The county still must craft and introduce an ordinance with specifics.
Under the plan, applicants in the county will need to get a special-use permit for the location and get a business license. The county application fee for a permit would be $5,000.
Under the county’s proposal, property owners within a 500-foot radius will be notified.
State law sets minimum distances between dispensaries and others: 1,000 feet from schools and 300 feet from community facilities, which include parks, places of worship, day cares, or other facilities that have the main purpose of providing recreational activities to children. The county can place more stringent requirements on the distances if it wishes.
Commissioner Susan Brager noted that the 300-foot minimum requirement from a community facility isn’t very far.
“Three hundred feet is like a stone’s throw,” she said.
Ultimately, the proposal will reflect a balancing act. On one side is a desire not to encroach near residential properties and keep some sort of distance. Commissioners expressed a desire for minimum distances between dispensaries and residential properties. On the other side is a desire to make to dispensaries convenient.
There are also decisions commissioners will make about where to allow cultivation facilities.
Commissioner Steve Sisolak said he wouldn’t want grow houses anywhere near residential neighborhoods, adding that they are more suited for industrial warehouse areas.
There’s also a balance, though, given the product that the grow houses contain and the need to make sure the facilities aren’t so isolated they embolden mischief makers.
“We have to be careful we don’t isolate the grow houses so much they’re at risk,” Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said.