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First marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas area opens


It was a moment more than two years in the making — or 17 years, depending on how you look at it.

The first legal medical marijuana dispensary in Clark County opened Monday morning and made its first sales to invited customers.

Euphoria Wellness, a shop in the southwest Las Vegas Valley, is one of 40 dispensaries approved for Clark County last year by state health officials.

Bill Kilbride, a stroke survivor who was the first patient let in the door at 10 a.m., came out half an hour later, proudly holding a black and white paper bag containing the four different strains he'd bought. He spent just over $200 for half an ounce.

Most patients were served in less time, but Kilbride said he had the staff explain his choices to him as he tries to find a strain that works for him.

People smiled and chatted as they stood in line outside and filled out registration forms on clipboards. They included cancer survivors and people with muscle spasms or chronic pain from joint replacements and other conditions.

The general sentiment was: It's about time.

"We've been waiting around for a lot of years," said Steve McDonald, a skin cancer survivor from Henderson who uses marijuana to make balms and ointments that help with pain.

Before the 10 a.m. opening, elected officials and reporters toured the shop, which sits in a shopping center at 7780 S. Jones Blvd.

Beyond its small lobby is a larger secure area protected by bullet-resistant glass, where samples of six strains of marijuana sat inside a glass case on a countertop for customers to see and smell before buying. Strains included Blue Dream, Kosher Kush and San Fernando Valley, and each was labeled with information including the percentage of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

All the marijuana sold was prepackaged in plastic pill jars, which sat in yellow bins locked inside glass cases behind another counter. Co-owner Joe Lamarca said there will be 27 strains eventually.

The shop opened Monday for up to 200 people who had pre-registered and RSVP'd to an invitation. It will sell to as many as 200 more invited guests Tuesday, then on Wednesday will open for anyone with a state-issued patient card.

The marijuana was selling for $17 to $20 a gram or $95 to $114 for a quarter ounce, which is about seven grams.

Euphoria becomes just the second dispensary in Nevada. The first, in Sparks, opened July 31.

A LONG WAIT

Growing your own marijuana with a doctor's permission and a state card has been legal in Nevada since 2001. State voters twice approved legalization for medical use, in 1998 and 2000.

The Nevada Legislature voted to allow dispensaries and commercial growing in 2013. And late last year, the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health chose the winning applicants.

The long wait since for a Las Vegas-area dispensary frustrated patients, lawmakers and advocates.

Euphoria once hoped to open as early as February or March. But the debut was delayed by bureaucratic disputes and the wait for commercial crops to be ready.

Euphoria planned to start by selling marijuana bought from home growers, which is allowed under state law.

But county officials told the dispensary it could buy only 2½ ounces from each home grower. They cited a provision in state law saying a patient can only possess that much "usable marijuana" at one time.

Such small amounts would make marijuana prohibitively expensive to test and made it impossible for the dispensary to gather enough to open for business. Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who sponsored the bill to allow dispensaries, said that kind of limit on patient sales was never intended by the Legislature.

The county then issued Euphoria a business license saying it couldn't sell any patient-grown marijuana, regardless of state law.

Euphoria's owners considered suing the county, but ultimately waited and opened Monday with commercially grown plants. Like all marijuana sold in the state, theirs has been tested and approved by a state-licensed laboratory.

Supply is still limited, and Euphoria is limiting each patient to half an ounce until more crops are ready.

CHANGING ATTITUDES

Over the decade and a half since Nevada voters first OK'd medical use, Americans' view of marijuana has shifted significantly.

The Pew Research Center found 53 percent of Americans now support legal marijuana, compared with 31 percent in 2000.

The federal government still outlaws marijuana, but state laws are changing fast.

Recreational marijuana is legal in varying forms in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia, while 19 other states allow medical use, according to a survey by Governing magazine.

"We're reaching a tipping point," Rep. Dina Titus said as she toured Euphoria Monday morning.

Titus, D-Nevada, said the changes at the state level are helping build a bipartisan consensus that federal marijuana laws need to change. She expects reforms, such as relaxing banking rules for the marijuana industry, but does not expect federal legalization any time soon.

In Nevada, state regulators want marijuana dispensaries to look and feel like pharmacies. There are rules about labeling and marketing: No green leaves, no use of slang like "pot" or "weed."

The employees who advise you on what strain to buy are called budtenders in other states, but at Euphoria, they're "wellness guides."

State Sen. Patricia Farley, R-Las Vegas, said she thinks people will be impressed by how clean, professional and safe dispensaries are. The reality will make people realize legal marijuana isn't "the end of the world," she said as she toured Euphoria.

And that could affect how Nevadans vote when deciding in 2016 whether to legalize recreational marijuana.

Already, marijuana is becoming mainstream, a fact reflected in Euphoria Wellness' ordinary location in a shopping center south of the 215 Beltway. Its neighbors include a dentist, a sports bar and restaurants.

Las Vegas police drove by the dispensary and sat in the parking lot at times Monday morning. But dispensary officials said officers were only there in case they were needed for crowd control or traffic issues.

There were no problems. People walked out of the shop with their bags as they would from any other store, got in their cars and drove home.

"Finally, they're coming out of the shadows," Lamarca said as he stood outside watching.

Contact Eric Hartley at ehartley@reviewjournal.com or 702-550-9229. Find him on Twitter: @ethartley

 

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