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Las Vegas judge could rule next week in marijuana licensing case

Updated August 16, 2019 - 4:37 pm

A judge in Las Vegas is set to decide whether Nevada should reverse course on issuing marijuana business licenses.

Several companies that were denied licenses sued the Nevada Department of Taxation, arguing that the state did not administer thorough background checks on applicants and conducted inaccurate and improper scoring to award new business licenses worth millions of dollars.

But Steve Shevorski, head of complex litigation with the Nevada attorney general’s office, argued Friday that state officials conducted an impartial review of each of the 462 applications for 61 new licenses awarded late last year.

“We don’t care who ends up with these licenses,” Shevorski said. “We are here to show your honor that we did our level best, acted fairly and will accept your honor’s decision whatever it is.”

After testimony that stretched for three months, District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez indicated Friday that she could have a decision by next week.

The judge heard roughly eight hours of arguments on Thursday and Friday alone as the lengthy hearing wrapped up.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this year, losing bidders accused state tax officials of failing to disclose how they selected companies for new pot dispensaries.

State law transferred licensing and registration for marijuana businesses from the Division of Public and Behavioral Health to the Taxation Department.

Todd Bice, an attorney for the companies awarded the licenses, argued that preventing those companies from opening puts a strain on the state’s pot economy.

“All it’s going to do is harm my clients and harm the public and keep the black market in play because now there won’t be as many people satisfying the public’s desire for this product,” Bice said. “That’s all that this is about: If I can’t have it, you can’t have it.”

Attorney Rusty Graf, who also represents Clear River LLC, a company awarded a license, pointed to testimony that projected the value of each license at $10 million.

A day earlier, attorney Dominic Gentile, who represents Serenity Wellness Center LLC, which was denied a license, accused winning companies of misrepresenting diversity in order to gain points in the review process.

Alina Shell, another lawyer for the winning bidders, criticized Gentile’s argument as insensitive and untrue.

“The marijuana industry is white male space,” Shell said. “It’s a space that women and people of color haven’t been able to break into.”

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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