Marijuana dispensary bill clears Senate, heads to Assembly

CARSON CITY — The state Senate backed a bill Wednesday that would set up state-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries and grow farms across Nevada.

The vote was 17-4.

Under Senate Bill 374, as many as 40 pharmacy-like dispensaries could be created in Clark County, 10 in Washoe County and at least one in each rural county. State-regulated farms also would be created.

The bill, however, still must go through hearings and a vote in the Assembly before being sent to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his signature, and the Legislature adjourns at midnight Monday.

The drug could be sold only to Nevadans who have state-authorized medical marijuana cards, who number 3,785 right now. A doctors’ authorization would be required for them to use medical marijuana for treatment of AIDS, pain, cancer, nausea and illnesses.

State voters in 1998 and 2000 approved a constitutional amendment to allow Nevadans to have access to medical marijuana, even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The Legislature in 2001 passed an enabling law allowing authorized medical marijuana patients to grow as many as seven plants each. But District Judge Don Mosley ruled last year that the law was unconstitutional because it did not provide many patients a reasonable way to acquire marijuana.

Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, then drew up the dispensary bill.

While the bill would remove the right of patients to grow their own marijuana, he said he wants the Assembly to put that back in and give only existing patients the right to grow marijuana.

Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, noted he is a conservative who voted against the medical marijuana amendment, but supports the dispensary bill. He argued that unlike California, Nevada will regulate dispensaries in an appropriate manner.

“It doesn’t matter what I think about the wisdom of using marijuana,” Hutchison said. “But if you believe in the rule of law, we cannot pick which constitutional rights we should support.”

Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said that as a medical doctor he has prescribed “Marinol,” the chemical, pill version of marijuana, to his patients, but opposed the bill.

Because Marinol is available by prescription, Hardy said medical marijuana is not needed.

“And besides, smoking is bad for you,” he added.

Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, backed the bill but said he was concerned about removal of the grow-your-own language. He said some or his constituents cannot afford the expected $400-an-ounce cost.

Also voting no were Republican Sens. Barbara Cegavske of Las Vegas, Don Gustavson of Sparks and James Settelmeyer of Minden.

In other action on legislation Wednesday, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed two bills into law.

—Assembly Bill 243, Brianna’s Law, requires people arrested on felony charges to give DNA cheek swabs to police. The hope is the DNA will tie them to unsolved crimes. The bill is named after Brianna Denison, a 19-year-old Reno college student killed in 2008. James Biela, who was convicted of her murder and the rape of another college student, is now waiting execution at Ely State Prison. Supporters think the murder could have been avoided if the law had been in effect at the time. Biela had an arrest record.

—Assembly Bill 60, gives the secretary of state more control over donation efforts made by charities. The charities must give information about themselves and their purpose, and that information will be posted on the secretary of state’s website. Supporters testified that charities claim their donations are tax-deductible when often they are not.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.