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Clark County sued over medical marijuana actions

A barrage of medical marijuana lawsuits has been filed against Clark County, the largest local government in Nevada to play a role in approving dispensaries.

Five medical marijuana dispensary applicants are suing the County Commission in three separate lawsuits that call into question the legality of the county’s process of issuing special use permits to dispensary applicants. The outcome affects more than just dispensary owners — patient access is also at issue because there are fewer dispensaries spread throughout the county.

Only 10 dispensary applicants have gained the necessary approvals from both the state and the county to set up shop, even though the law allows up to 18 dispensaries in unincorporated Clark County.

The state is just opening the green gates to the medical marijuana industry, after state legislation in 2013 laid out the groundwork for a regulated system of dispensaries, grow houses, production facilities and laboratories. That system sparked an intense, competitive medical pot rush for the Silver State, as applicants jockeyed from Las Vegas to Reno for a shot at what’s expected to be a lucrative dispensary slot. Nearly 80 companies applied in Clark County alone.

The five dispensary applicants suing the county are part of eight applicants approved by the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health, but not the county.

Because the county’s and state’s top picks didn’t match up, there are eight applicants who received approval from only the state, and a separate group of eight applicants who only received approval from the county.

The thrust of the separate filings is largely the same: That the county erred by only issuing special use permits to its favored 18 applicants before the state ranked them and tried to force the state’s hand without regard to the state’s ranking system. The lawsuits seek court orders forcing the county to issue special permits, contending that the applicants meet all the requirements needed for county permits.

Livfree Wellness and Nuleaf Clark Dispensary, both limited liability companies, joined forces for one of the lawsuits, filed Monday in Clark County District Court. They contend that when the county issued special use permits only to its favored 18 applicants, officials “erroneously thought that in doing so, it could dictate who would be the successful applicants at the State level.”

They also called the county’s June 2014 application process “flawed.”

County spokesman Erik Pappa declined to comment.

When the commission initially tapped its 18 picks in June, it held dozens of the remaining applicants “in abeyance” without a final decision, including the five suing. In December 2014, commissioners denied all of them. The lawsuit argues that county officials didn’t have any legitimate land use basis for its rejection and that the county “acted illegally.”

Another of the three lawsuits was filed by Naturex, a limited liability company. Like the others, Naturex points out that the law gives state-picked applicants up to 18 months to get all the local government permits.

Tryke Companies SO NV and Medifarm, both limited liability companies, filed the third lawsuit last week.

Clark County isn’t the only one being sued. In a separate lawsuit, county-approved dispensary applicants who didn’t make the state cut are suing the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health over its process, alleging the state didn’t give them a fair shake.

The first run at the process has been marred with confusion. State officials had said in public meetings that the division would move down the list when ranking applicants if any of its top picks didn’t have local approval. But the state only issued provisional certificates to 18 medical marijuana dispensary applicants in the county.

Based on those statements, county officials asked if the state would follow that process and issue additional provisional certificates. But the division later said no and that the 90-day period in state law for reviewing applications was over.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.

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