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Clark County Commission allows medical marijuana dispensaries

Clark County commissioners handed a victory to medical marijuana supporters Wednesday.

They approved an ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries.

The 4-2 vote is a milestone for medical marijuana proponents, who have long pushed for dispensaries to make it easier for patients to access the product.

The new change also allows facilities in the county for manufacturing, cultivating and testing medical marijuana.

Commissioners changed the proposal before approving it. For example, they eliminated the proposed restriction requiring a 330-foot separation from residential properties. As a result, instead of an ironclad distance requirement, special permit applications will give commissioners broader discretion to determine if a permit is suitable for the surrounding area.

Other potential changes faced more disagreement and ultimately failed.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, for example, sought to lessen the zoning restrictions assigned cultivation facilities, which are restricted to industrial zones.

She said allowing applicants for a commercial zone would help a business that wants to have its cultivation and dispensaries in one facility. That’s also important so prices aren’t inadvertently driven up, she said.

Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak disagreed, noting that he’s not comfortable with the idea of cultivation facilities opening up in former grocery stores. Cultivation facilities are better suited in warehouse and manufacturing areas, he said, adding that it’s more important for dispensaries that sell the product to be close to residents.

Giunchigliani, who voted against the overall ordinance along with Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, said afterward that her “no” vote was more of a “protest vote” out of concerns for specific parts of the ordinance.

“I do fundamentally think we should try to do it right from the get-go,” she said.

A former state legislator, Giunchigliani drafted the 2001 Nevada bill that legalized medical marijuana.

All commissioners, in a separate vote before voting on the overall ordinance, supported lifting the proposed 330-foot separation requirement between dispensaries and residential property. Commissioner Tom Collins was absent.

One key sticking point in the county ordinance was the question of whether dispensaries could sell medical marijuana produced in cultivation facilities in regions of Nevada outside Clark County

Giunchigliani wanted more flexibility for dispensaries without restrictions, saying it’s crucial that patients can get the medicine they need without government restrictions driving up the prices.

Sisolak, on the other hand, said that with Clark County taking the lead on the issue, the cultivation facilities — the biggest source of jobs — should also be in the county. One presentation he received from a company showed that a cultivation facility alone would generate 200 jobs, he said.

“We can definitely use those jobs in Clark County,” Sisolak said.

The county’s ordinance requires dispensaries to sell products from a county cultivation facility, unless an adequate supply of the product isn’t available in the county. That determination will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Medical marijuana comes in a variety of different forms. Different strains, some of them specialized, are used to treat various illnesses, including seizures.

Michael McAuliffe, political outreach director of the marijuana patient advocate group WECAN, said the decision was a good move. However, he expressed concerns about limiting the locations of cultivation facilities.

He said limiting the available locations will drive up prices, with increased costs for property and leases. He said concerns about cultivation facilities are misplaced, noting the grow facilities don’t generate heavy traffic.

“I think there’s a logical disconnect about the dangers of growing a plant,” he said. “So I think the county needs to take a look at this.”

But, he added, “Ultimately, this will be a good step for patients.”

It will be awhile before county residents will know where the new dispensaries will be located.

The county will accept applicants from April 16 to May 2. It will have a marathon public hearing on June 5 to go over the applicants and decide who gets selected.

The aim of the ordinance is for the dispensaries to be located throughout the county for residents’ convenience.

“Hopefully we’ll be spread out so everybody will have access to them,” Sisolak said.

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

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