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Nevada lawmakers prepared to tweak state’s marijuana laws

Updated January 14, 2019 - 10:42 am

CARSON CITY — Lawmakers are set to get their first real crack at tweaking Nevada’s new marijuana laws when the legislative session kicks off next month.

Already there are at least a dozen marijuana-related bill requests for the 2019 Legislature, several dealing with the industry’s access to banking, which has long been an issue for marijuana businesses, not just in Nevada. Others look to change where the pot tax money goes.

Nevadans approved recreational marijuana use and sales in the 2016 election, and those sales started in July 2017. Nevada law prevents lawmakers from changing the language of the voter-approved initiative for three years, meaning that the upcoming session will be their first chance to make adjustments.

After some 18 months of legal sales, lawmakers are looking at what’s worked — and what hasn’t — in hopes of keeping the industry relatively stable.

“We’ve learned a lot since the market got up and running, and we want to make sure we take action on what we have learned to not only protect the industry but (also) continue to be the country’s leader in regulations and have the industry thrive,” said state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas.

Here’s a quick look at some of the proposals expected to come up during the session of the Legislature, which begins Feb. 4:

Pot money

Nevada’s legal marijuana industry blew past nearly everyone’s initial expectations, with dispensaries selling nearly $425 million of recreational cannabis products and pulling in nearly $70 million in tax revenue in the first full year of sales.

But where that tax money gets directed could change this session.

A special 10 percent sales tax is levied on the sale of all adult-use marijuana in the state, with the revenue going to the state’s rainy day fund.

But a bill calls for that money to be instead used for education and other areas, like medical marijuana research grants. The bill was originally proposed by Tick Segerblom, who resigned his Senate seat when he was elected to the Clark County Commission. New Sen. Dallas Harris, D-Las Vegas now sponsors the measure.

That bill would also allow local governments to impose additional taxes that could be used for schools, affordable housing, programs to assist the homeless population, specialty courts and diversion programs.

Banking

At least four of the proposals are attempts to try to solve the marijuana industry’s ever-present problem.

Most banks are federally regulated, and because marijuana is illegal federally, most banks aren’t willing to work with cannabis companies over fears of becoming a target of the federal government.

That’s led to the majority of marijuana companies operating as cash-only businesses, which means that standard procedures like paying rent or taxes involve carrying large amounts of cash around, often in duffel bags, and presenting inherent security risks.

Two of the bills were proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. One would create a state-chartered, privately insured bank licensed to handle marijuana money. The other would allow Nevada to enter an agreement with California, where marijuana is also legal, to work with banks there.

Another comes from Senate Minority Leader James Settelemeyer, R-Minden. He said it seeks “to try and solve the cash problem with the industry,” but he added that the bill is still being drafted and that not all details have been ironed out.

The Assembly Committee on Growth and Infrastructure has proposed a bill that would create a State Marijuana Bank, and Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, said he is proposing a similar bill in the upper chamber.

“I think there’s a great need. These guys are running around with cash,” Atkinson said. “There’s got to be a better way.”

Others

Cancela, whose Senate district encompasses roughly one-quarter of all the state’s dispensaries, has a proposal aimed at helping consumers make sure they know they’re buying from a licensed dispensary.

Her bill would require the Tax Department to publish on its website a list of all licensed marijuana delivery companies and dispensaries and explicitly limit marijuana sales to businesses with brick-and-mortar dispensaries.

“Brick-and-mortar stores really have the processes in place and are very deliberate in tracking every piece of inventory,” Cancela said, adding that these safeguards help ensure that consumers get products that meet Nevada’s testing standards.

The voter-approved marijuana law limits the number of marijuana dispensaries in each county, but a bill proposed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee would allow cities to ask the Department of Taxation to issue additional licenses.

And Assemblyman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, has proposed a bill to tweak the laws that govern advertising for marijuana businesses.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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