At a contentious meeting Tuesday night, with three members abstaining, the Las Vegas Planning Commission failed to send firm decisions on zoning issues regarding medical marijuana to the City Council.
There were 14 separate votes, but the primary issue is what the distance separating medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation and production sites need to be when it comes to schools, churches, day cares and residential areas. Local governments have the right to make them tougher than the state standards, but not less restrictive.
Supporters of medical marijuana want the distances to match the state standards. Opponents want to set tougher standards, which would make it more difficult to find sites to set up business in the city.
Several attorneys, including Ed Bernstein and Bruce Gale, urged the seven commissioners to go with the least restrictive standards the state will allow.
Voters approved medical marijuana in 2000, but it took until the 2013 state Legislature to create a procedure to operate a medical marijuana establishment. Local governments in Clark County can decide whether they want these businesses in the cities or county and establish zoning and business license standards. Operations are expected to start in April.
Planning Commissioner Trinity Schlottman, appointed by Councilman Bob Coffin, a medical marijuana advocate, tried to convince other commissioners that the least restrictive standards were the best options.
But with the abstentions, he had trouble getting the four votes needed to pass a motion. Instead, most of the commission’s votes will go to the City Council as simply recommendations. Basically, most of the votes left the decision in the hands of the elected officials.
Schlottman, clearly frustrated by the 14 split votes during the discussion of how far a dispensary, production or cultivation center should be from churches and houses of worship, burst out that “the state has already put a lot of thought into this. For us to go in and say it should be 1,000 feet (instead of 300), we might as well just say we don’t want these in our town.”
He persuaded Commission Chairman Gus Flangas and Commissioner Dick Bonar to stick with the 300-foot distance from churches but not Commissioner Vicki Quinn, who voted against it.
She had her own outburst, saying, “I don’t want Ward 1 (Lois Tarkanian’s ward) to end up as a pot ward. I don’t want these piled up on Industrial Road and Highland Avenue.”
Quinn was surprised that the planning staff was recommending that at the start only three sites be granted licenses, when 10 would be allowed by the state within city limits. She favored more restrictive standards.
Two commissioners — Bonar and Flangas — debated whether the standards were a move toward legalizing recreational marijuana. The finger-wagging Bonar said that “the audience deserves a reprimand to think this is already for recreational use,” he said. “We’re talking medical marijuana here, period.”
Flangas said he was bothered by that facade. “I think this is an intermediate step to go toward Colorado (legalizing recreational pot).” He added, “I’m not in favor of marijuana, but the law is the law.”
They debated different distances for different issues, but because the commission is merely an advisory body, the council will make the final decisions on whether dispensaries, cultivation and production facilities will be 300 or 1,000 feet or some other distance from schools, churches and day cares.
The City Council had hoped that planning commissioners would approve or deny certain distances. But the commission didn’t do that, leaving investors still uncertain as they search for sites in the city limits to operate.
Contact reporter Jane Ann Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0275.