CARSON CITY — It may be a case of “one toke over (the next county) line” for some Nevada medical marijuana patients anxiously waiting to get the drug from state-licensed dispensaries starting next year.
Some Nevada counties and cities might balk at the idea of licensing a dispensary as allowed under legislation passed this year, forcing patients to drive to an adjoining county to get the product.
Lyon County officials are considering a proposal by the sheriff to ban the establishment of a dispensary in unincorporated parts of the county.
Other rural counties and cities might do the same.
“I think there is a lot of apprehension in the rural counties about how it is going to work,” said state Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka. “There is not a lot of support for it in the rurals. The counties I represent are looking the other way. They hope it goes away.”
Goicoechea, who voted for Senate Bill 374 creating the dispensaries, said the concern is that they will create a wide-open black market for marijuana.
“How can you tell if the marijuana in a patient’s possession came from a dispensary or the black market?” he asked.
But state Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who authored the measure to give medical marijuana patients a simpler way to obtain the drug, said he does not expect access to be a big issue after regulations are approved by the state Health Division to regulate the establishments. The regulations are expected to be adopted by April 1, with dispensaries likely to begin operating late in 2014.
The more populated counties are expected to move forward with licensing of the dispensaries, he said.
“If Clark or Washoe County did not move forward, it would be a problem,” Segerblom said. “But Lyon County is not far from Carson City or Washoe County. If access does become an issue, the Legislature can revisit it in 2015.”
The city of Las Vegas last week enacted an ordinance placing a six-month moratorium on the licensing of dispensaries, but the move was temporary, until the state regulatory process is clarified.
ISSUE CALLED COMPLEX
City Councilman Stavros Anthony said the issue is complex. Issues include where dispensaries should be allowed to operate and how to ensure they serve medical patients only.
Anthony said elected officials must respect the fact that Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment creating the medical marijuana program. But it also is true that marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law, he said.
That’s why he supported the moratorium, which will give officials time to address any concerns.
“If we decide to go ahead, we want to do it right,” Anthony said.
The dispensary bill, signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval in June, is intended to fulfill the Legislature’s obligation to make marijuana available to those with valid medical cards.
Voters gave final approval to the program in 2000, and much of the bipartisan legislative support for the bill this year came from lawmakers who said the wishes of the voters needed to be addressed.
The current system requires patients to grow their own or get it from caregivers who grow it and donate it to their patients. The reality is many buy the drug from illegal suppliers.
The new law authorizes one pot dispensary in each of Nevada’s 14 rural counties, up to 40 in Clark County, 10 in Washoe County and two in Carson City.
Segerblom said the law allows local jurisdictions to opt out.
“If a rural county or city doesn’t want to do it, that’s fine with me,” he said.
Access issues can also be addressed by the “grow your own” provisions remaining in the new law, Segerblom said.
ACCESS PROBLEM PREDICTED
But access may be an issue for some patients even with the new law, he said.
If Pahrump opens the only dispensary in Nye County, residents of Gabbs, nearly 300 miles north would have a long drive to get the drug, Segerblom said.
Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who authored the bill establishing Nevada’s medical marijuana program in 2001 as a member of the Assembly, said she believes Southern Nevada jurisdictions will work cooperatively to establish dispensaries once state-level regulations are in place.
“I think we’re fine,” she said. “It would be shortsighted not to take advantage of this. We can create a good model.”
Giunchigliani said the “grow your own” provisions in her 2001 bill were adopted in an effort to keep the federal government from cracking down on the program. During the Bush administration, John Walters, the nation’s first drug czar, campaigned against efforts to relax marijuana laws, including legalization efforts in Nevada that ultimately failed.
The Obama administration recently announced it will not challenge voter-approved laws in Washington and Colorado permitting recreational use of the drug.
Giunchigliani said the result of the 2001 legislation is that many patients have had to buy the product on the black market.
“Sick people should not have a tough time getting their medicine,” she said.
Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties, said many county officials are waiting for clarification from the state on how the dispensaries will operate. The potential economic benefit is a topic of conversation as well, he said.
LeRoy Goodman, mayor of the Lyon County city of Fernley, said city officials still are gathering information.
“We just want to see how this will proceed,” he said. “The city will do what is in the best interest of its citizens.”
Goodman said he does not have strong feelings either way on the medical marijuana issue. But the potential economic impact to the city will be part of any discussion, he said.
Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, who represents Lyon County in the Legislature, said he supports the proposed ban on dispensaries in the county. He voted against the bill in the Assembly.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said of the new law. “People who need the drug are getting it now.”
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801