CARSON CITY — Two years after passing a law to set up medical marijuana dispensaries in Nevada, state lawmakers are trying to massage the rules to fix unintended consequences of the process.
Senate Bill 276 would reallocate 11 unused certificates in rural counties to the state’s two population centers, Clark County in the south and Washoe County in the north.
It would also allow establishments to move within the jurisdiction of their local government and allow the transfer of ownership of a facility to another person, provided that person meets licensing requirements.
“As with any new program, there are hiccups and road bumps along the way, and SB276 aims to smooth the path as we move forward,” state Sen. Patricia Farley, R-Las Vegas, told members of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee during a hearing Thursday.
The committee passed the bill late Thursday night, sending it to the Assembly floor. It previously was approved by the Senate.
Farley is a co-sponsor of the bill with state Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas.
The 2013 Legislature set up a regulatory and licensing process for medical marijuana, 13 years after voters approved medicinal pot. That law set out the number of certificates that could be issued in each county, depending on population.
Clark County was awarded 40; Washoe, 10; Carson City, 2; and one in each of the rural counties.
But most rural counties shunned having marijuana facilities so those certificates are not being used. Under the bill, they would be reissued to existing, pre-qualified applicants in populated areas where demand is higher.
Problems over medical pot arose in Clark County when the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health approved some applicants that were not picked by the county, while others were selected by the county and not the state.
At least three lawsuits have been filed against the county over the selection process.
In Washoe County, three of the five licenses for the unincorporated areas were issued to businesses at the north end of Lake Tahoe, while a fourth is along the Mount Rose Highway leading to Incline Village.
Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, said those four are in his district and “three are right next to each other and one is next door by the high school.”
The bill would allow the clustered dispensaries to relocate and spread out to other areas of the county.
“Unless we have this process in place to do it, it won’t occur,” said J.T. Moran, an industry lobbyist.
Farley said the bill would give local governments “flexibility” to deal with lawsuits.
“Of course, it is up to the counties to handle such lawsuits and there is no guarantee of outcome, but I believe this bill gives them tools to negotiate resolution so the medical marijuana industry can move forward,” Farley said.
The bill was opposed by Sierra Wellness Connection, which has been licensed to grow and dispense medicinal pot in Reno.
Joe Crowley, president of Sierra Wellness, testified against the bill, citing concerns that allowing more facilities without knowing what the demand will be for medical marijuana harms existing license holders who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into operations.
Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, was skeptical of the argument, suggesting local governments don’t set caps on other businesses.
“We don’t tell grocery stores you can only put 50 in Clark County,” she said.
Contact Sandra Chereb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb.