CARSON CITY — A bill that would authorize the establishment of dispensaries where Nevadans could purchase marijuana for medicinal purposes must ensure that the facilities operate like professional pharmacies and not follow the “Jerry Garcia lounge” model, a lawmaker said Friday.
“This is not going to be a Jerry Garcia concept,” said Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, referring to the late Grateful Dead guitarist and his recreational enjoyment of the drug.
“I didn’t vote for medical marijuana,” he said. “But I will, and I think other members of this committee from both parties will, uphold the rule of law. There is a constitutional right to have this and to use this. Now let’s make it as safe as we possibly can.”
Senate Bill 374, sponsored by Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, is meant to fill a gap in the state’s voter-approved medical marijuana program. The bill was heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday.
It was the first hearing on the bill since Segerblom and several other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee took a field trip a week ago to Phoenix accompanied by reporters to see the operation of a dispensary there firsthand.
Voters in Nevada approved a medical marijuana program in 2000, putting it in the state constitution. Nevadans can pay a $150 fee and get a physician’s signature for a card authorizing them to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, but there is no easy avenue to obtain the product.
Individuals have to grow their own or acquire it from a caregiver.
About 3,600 Nevadans have medical marijuana cards.
SEGERBLOM: FOLLOW ARIZONA’S LEAD
Segerblom said this situation has created legal problems for growers, who can be arrested for illegal cultivation.
Nevada needs to follow Arizona’s model and establish dispensaries, he said.
“We’re going to have a tight process here where we regulate them,” he said.
The visit to Arizona Organix found a dispensary that was operated in a professional manner, with patients taken two at a time into a secure back room where they could view different varieties of marijuana and make a purchase.
There was no marijuana obviously being used in the vicinity of the dispensary, which is in Glendale. One of the owners, Bill Myer, said the business is a good neighbor to nearby businesses.
The bill saw a lot of support from Nevada medical marijuana patients and from Las Vegas attorney Julie Raye, who is representing Nathan Hamilton and Leonard Schwingdorf, who operated a nonprofit dispensary in Las Vegas for authorized medical marijuana patients. The men were arrested by police and charged with multiple counts of sale, trafficking and possession of a controlled substance. The case is on appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Raye said Hamilton wanted his case to go to the Supreme Court so the law could be changed. He was facing multiple life sentences when he took his own life a few months ago, she said.
The bill would remove the stress and fear of life imprisonment for those working to provide medical marijuana to patients in need, she said.
Medical marijuana patient William Baker, testifying from Las Vegas, said he had to let his card lapse for a time because he could not grow his own marijuana and there was nowhere to buy it.
“It’s very debilitating and it’s very humiliating to see all these raids going on,” he said. It will be nice to have a place where patients can safely get their medicine, he said.
LAS VEGAS POLICE VOICE CONCERNS
But Chuck Calloway, representing the Metropolitan Police Department, said the agency has some logistical concerns on how the dispensaries would affect public safety and law enforcement.
He also asked that the Legislature consider increasing sentences for those growing marijuana outside the law if the bill passes.
“We have a huge problem with indoor and outdoor grow houses,” Calloway said.
The bill envisions 10 dispensaries initially in Clark County, with operators being determined by lottery, but the number could expand with need. It would impose a $20,000 fee to apply to operate a for-profit dispensary. A renewal would cost $5,000 annually.
It would require medical marijuana to be treated in a similar fashion to prescription drugs, so there would be oversight by the state Board of Pharmacy.
It also envisions a system of reciprocity so that medical marijuana patients in other states would be protected from arrest in Nevada.
Segerblom said the economic aspect of the legislation is significant. There probably would be as much as a 10-fold increase in the number of people seeking cards, which would generate several million dollars to help administer the dispensary program, he said.
The revenue from sales is not certain at this point, Segerblom said.
Hutchison said dispensary operators would make a lot of money. Based on information gleaned from the Arizona trip, operators would make anywhere between $100,000 and $700,000 a month, he said.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at email@example.com or 775-687-3900.