Medical marijuana program gets funding

CARSON CITY — Efforts to get a medical marijuana dispensary program established in Nevada moved forward Thursday when state lawmakers approved staff and funding to implement regulations and set up a tax collection process.

The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee approved nearly $250,000 so the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health can hire two contract employees to implement the program, including the licensing of labs, cultivators and the dispensaries. The funding will come from the fees paid by those seeking to operate the dispensaries.

Lawmakers also approved a $529,000 request from the Department of Taxation to set up the process for collecting the excise taxes on the sale of the medical marijuana at both the wholesale and retail levels. The money will come from the Legislature’s contingency fund.

Chris Nielsen, executive director of the Tax Department, said most of the cost to start the collection process involves one-time changes to its tax system at a cost of $496,000. The agency also is seeking ongoing funding of about $52,000 a year to hire a new tax examiner, he said.

Regulations to get the dispensary system up and running are expected to be in place by April 1, 2014, but Marla McDade Williams, deputy administrator of the health division, said it will take longer to license the labs, growers and dispensaries.

The date when medical marijuana patients will be able to buy the product at a licensed dispensary is not yet finalized.

A bill passed by the Legislature in the 2013 session allows for the creation of up to 40 medical marijuana dispensaries in Clark County and smaller numbers in other counties.

The bill came more than a decade after the state’s voters approved legalization of medical marijuana and a 2001 law that stipulated patients had to grow the drug themselves.

While a majority of lawmakers on the committee approved the funding requests, Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said there are concerns by local officials in some rural counties that he represents because marijuana use is against federal law, that they won’t be authorizing the creation of a dispensary.

The Justice Department announced Thursday it will not try to stop Colorado or Washington from allowing recreational marijuana use.

Williams said the state law provides for at least one dispensary in each county, so if an operator is denied a license in a county, the individual would likely have to sue to get the license to operate.

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