Legal Nevada medical marijuana dispensaries still risk federal crackdown

A medical marijuana dispensary opened its doors just a mile from the U.S. Capitol in recent weeks, operating at a fast clip and dishing out different strains of the weed to cancer and AIDS patients.

Now, Nevada’s medical pot advocates are hoping the dispensary, Capital City Care, could discourage federal government crackdowns and possibly even lead to repeal of the federal law that currently outlaws such medicinal use.

“This could help our cause. If all goes well out in D.C., then maybe it’ll persuade the U.S. attorney general’s office that medical pot isn’t that bad,” said state Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas.

He is the chief author of a law this spring that legalized 40 dispensaries in Nevada after a 13-year wait.

“But I still think it’s hypocritical. The feds keep saying medical pot should be illegal; then they look the other way when one turns up in their own backyard,” said Segerblom, who experimented with pot at Pomona College in Southern California in the 1960s and is now considered the “father of legalization” in Nevada.

Legislators in Carson City are already working to establish a fund to collect the millions of dollars in taxes that Nevada’s dispensaries are expected to generate, the chief reason behind allowing pot dispensaries to open their doors here.

But some weren’t so quick to take a toke of what they see as “Kool Aid” being fed to the masses.

Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, the sole legislator to vote against the pot dispensary bill in the Nevada Senate, said he is not entirely convinced that medical pot is a good thing for the state — regardless of the money.

A physician, Hardy said pot, when eaten, can cause a host of problems, showing up in even the bloodstreams of newborns, according to studies published by highly respected medical journals.

What’s more, Hardy said, over time marijuana is going to become increasingly potent and will lose that “natural herb” quality, much along the same lines as fruits or vegetables that eventually are mass-produced to meet customers’ demands.

“Would you rather pick and eat a tomato from the garden?” he asks. “Or buy one from the store? I’d go with the garden, but soon the medical pot we’re talking about is going to be no different than that tomato that comes from the store.”

Andrea Barthwell, a physician who was President George W. Bush’s deputy director for Demand Reduction, a program geared toward reducing drug dependency and addiction, agrees.

She said medical marijuana isn’t yet a bona fide medication; in fact, it can’t even be classified as an herbal or alternative medicine because it is so addictive.

“We reject the notion that it’s a medicine, and we reject smoking as a delivery system to begin with,” she said.

Worse yet, Barthwell said, is that the legalization of medical pot that is sweeping the country has forced physicians in those states to consider writing prescriptions based on the opinions of a few who regard it as legitimate medication and have convinced others.

“It’s all being foisted upon us,” she said. “And everybody is celebrating. But you know what everybody is forgetting? They’re forgetting about the patients in this rush to make it legal all over the country. What ever happened to the patients?”

There are an estimated 3,800 medical marijuana patients in the Silver State, which for the past decade or so provided no access for them to obtain their medication legally.

While various states from Oregon to Vermont have approved the weed as a legitimate medication — starting with California in 1996 — the federal government has opposed it, randomly arresting business owners and shutting down pot dispensaries, including in Nevada.

Segerblom put it bluntly: “There are no guarantees. Your whole investment could be wiped away, if the U.S. attorney comes in and decides to swoop down and wipe you out.”

While those busts are becoming increasingly rare, there is no telling what the next presidential administration is capable of, said Joe Brezny, executive director of the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association, a budding network that is growing since Nevada legalized medicinal use.

“Hopefully what’s going on in D.C. will help,” said Brezny, former state director for Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in Nevada.

So, the medical marijuana fight isn’t exactly being waged along liberal-versus-conservative lines.

Brezny said he is mostly libertarian, believing in very little, if any, government intervention. And he is applying that these days in his quest to make Nevada one of the more successful states to operate medical pot dispensaries, learning from the mistakes of other states, foremost among them California.

Hardy is not convinced.

He contends that the new Nevada dispensaries will only create an uncontrolled substance, more so than it already is.

He said AIDS and cancer victims have plenty of medications at their disposal, including some over-the-counter drugs that can boost appetites and which contain THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Contact reporter Tom Ragan at tragan@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512.

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