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Nevada marijuana official placed on leave

CARSON CITY — A top Nevada marijuana official who has faced criticism in recent months over his conduct during the state’s cannabis licensing process was placed on administrative leave last week, state officials said Monday.

The Nevada Department of Taxation said that Jorge Pupo, the department’s deputy executive director who heads up the marijuana licensing program, had been placed on leave, but could not add any other details because it was a personnel matter.

Dozens of companies sued the state last December after losing out on bids to open new retail marijuana dispensaries. In an amended complaint in the case filed Friday, lawyers for three of those companies who were not awarded licenses argued that there was “widespread corruption” within the Tax Department.

The complaint points to comments made by Pupo while testifying in the case in June, in which he acknowledged that just weeks before applications were evaluated, he had lunches and dinners with dispensary owners and attorney Amanda Connor, who represents several cannabis companies who were awarded licenses.

The lawsuit argued that applicants who met with Pupo “received favorable treatment in exchange. Mr. Pupo allowed favored licensees to call him on his personal cell phone number and provided them with additional instruction regarding the application process.”

Pupo also said while testifying in June several marijuana companies told him to call them if he ever stopped working for the state, though he denied he ever took those as formal job offers.

“They’re just like, Hey, if you leave, you know come see me, we could use you, type thing,” Pupo testified in June.

“In addition to being an ethics violation, offering any ‘compensation, gratuity or reward to any executive or administrative officer … with the intent to influence the officer with respect to any act, decision, vote, opinion or other proceeding, as such officer’ is a felony in the state of Nevada,” the amended complaint said.

A District Court judge ruled in a civil lawsuit last month that the state should have conducted more thorough background checks on applicants for marijuana licenses, a ruling that could affect some companies that were awarded licenses. The lawsuit was filed by losing bidders for marijuana licenses who alleged the state failed to disclose how it had evaluated applications.

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

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