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Clark County delays medical pot dispensary selections

Clark County commissioners held off making any decisions about medical marijuana dispensaries Wednesday due to a pending lawsuit over the selection process.

The indefinite delay, which came at the request of the district attorney’s office, and the lawsuit could postpone the opening of almost half of the 18 dispensaries allowed in unincorporated areas of the county.

It’s the latest development in a conflict between the state and county over the new medical marijuana dispensary selection process.

The widening dispute developed after the county issued special use permits only to 18 applicants for medical marijuana dispensaries from a pool of nearly 80. Under the state law for dispensaries, up to 18 dispensaries are allowed in unincorporated Clark County.

The state Division of Public and Behavioral Health gave top scores to a different group of 18 dispensary applicants. Now there are three groups of applicants: 10 with approval from both agencies, eight with approval from just the county, and another eight with approval from only the state.

The meeting on Wednesday was planned to focus on how the county should address that outcome. State officials, meanwhile, have said that they won’t approve more applicants because the 90-day review period has ended.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Clark County District Court, comes from five of the eight dispensary applicants who received the county’s support but didn’t gain state backing. They are suing the behavioral health division. The county isn’t a defendant. The companies are Nevada Medical Marijuana Dispensary, GB Sciences Nevada, Nevada Holistic Medicine, Fidelis Holdings and Desert Inn Enterprises.

County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said the county’s attorneys will analyze the lawsuit, adding that he’s not sure how long it might take for further action.

“I don’t know if we’ll wait for the entire lawsuit to be resolved,” Sisolak said.

Sisolak said there’s a concern that the county won’t have the full 18 dispensaries allowed, but added the county’s selection process was transparent. Commissioners scored applications in open meetings, identifying the firms’ names. The state’s scoring process, however, unfolded behind closed doors and the names of companies weren’t released without the applicants’ permission.

It wasn’t clear Wednesday what impact, if any, the lawsuit will have on the 10 applicants with approval from both.

The lawsuit accuses the state division of reversing its position about how the state and local government approval process would coordinate when a city or county approves a limited number of applicants. The lawsuit notes that state division chief Chad Westom, who heads the program, has said if the county were to deny an applicant, the state would also deny the applicant and notify the county of the next ranked applicant.

Marla McDade Williams, the former administrator over the state’s medical marijuana program, left the state to lobby the division for an applicant that didn’t have county approval, the lawsuit alleges, calling that “further evidence of the ethical stench permeating from the Division’s recent about-face.”

Division officials declined comment Wednesday, citing the pending litigation.

The lawsuit criticizes the state’s scoring process as done by “multiple unknown temporary employees.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the state to issue the litigant applicants provisional dispensary certificates or follow the process that the state had previously outlined and rank applicants with county approval.

The lawsuit also lists as defendants different applicants, including the eight companies with state approval, but not the county; the 10 applicants with approval from the county and the state; and the three applicants that didn’t opt to join the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana patients are waiting for dispensaries.

Medical marijuana advocate Vicki Higgins said the prospect of just 10 dispensaries instead of 18 will create access problems for patients, especially with disabilities and lacking transportation.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.

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