Southern Nevada’s would-be medical marijuana entrepreneurs had hoped it would be different.
For months, pot permit applicants spurned by an oft-maligned land use and licensing format in Clark County have looked forward to a “more transparent” approval process expected in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson.
Many of those hopefuls felt the county — which opted to hand out its share of state pot permits months before Nevada health department regulators had fully vetted the state’s applicants — went out of its way to accommodate those represented by high-powered county lobbyists, often at the expense of equally well-qualified applicants yet to be ranked by the state.
Councilman Bob Coffin fears applicants will walk out of Las Vegas City Hall with a queasily similar feeling.
More than three dozen city pot permit hopefuls face two days of pot hearings in front of city leaders Oct. 28 and 29.
City Council members Wednesday finalized a revised format for those discussions, one that looks an awful lot like the pot hearings county commissioners held in June.
Las Vegas’ upcoming hearings, which had been planned around a state vetting process set to conclude early next month, will now see city leaders settle on pot permit winners with an up-or-down vote taken only minutes after hearing applicants’ pitches — and days before Nevada regulators have said they will hand down reports on state pot applicants’ suitability.
Changes to the city’s process struck a familiar and unwelcome chord with Coffin, a longtime medical marijuana advocate who has met with every one of the city’s 43 pot license hopefuls.
He worries those applicants peeved by the house rules in Clark County will only find more to dislike — and possibly sue over — north of Sahara Avenue.
“Why are we in such a rush?” Coffin asked his colleagues Wednesday. “We were told we’d make our decision on Nov. 5. Now you’re telling us to make our decision at that very moment.
“I don’t understand what could be gained here. … What you’re overlooking is the fact that the state opinion on these applicants, which I value, is going to be coming in five days later.”
Reached for comment Wednesday night, Coffin said efforts to accelerate the city’s pot hearing process served the interests “of a few key people … not council (members), but lobbyists.” He declined to name names.
Las Vegas leaders could deny permits for more than two dozen would-be medical pot entrepreneurs by the end of the month.
Those applicants who receive both city and state credentials will be routed back to the City Council for a final, as-yet-unscheduled suitability hearing.
Those whose applications are denied in both jurisdictions will have to hope for better luck next year.
Coffin’s concerns lie with a third category of applicants: those who get the nod at the state level but are denied land use and licensing rights by the city.
He stressed that some of those spurned applicants could have standing to sue the city over the loss of valuable medical marijuana land use entitlements — rights that stick to the city’s zoning map no matter what Nevada regulators might decide about the suitability of a particular pot shop applicant.
The simple solution, according to Coffin, would be to put off the city’s first round of binding pot permit hearings until state regulators hand down their verdict on city applicants early next month.
That’s where he and his fellow council members parted ways.
“This is ridiculous,” Councilman Steve Ross said of Coffin’s proposed extension. “I think it’s time to move this train down the track.”
Coffin said state officials had made it clear they wouldn’t bother to pass along an opinion on applicants who did not win local land use entitlements, a position he said could prove legally “dangerous” if city-rejected applicants were to find out they had been approved by the state.
Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian — whose Ward 3 is home to two dozen proposed pot grow houses, production facilities and dispensaries — figures it’s worth the risk.
“We’ve certainly taken far more time than the county took,” Tarkanian said of the city’s pot permit process. “I’d like to make those decisions on that day (of the hearings).
“If we take another week, I’d like to see that it’s a quiet week where we’re not contacted by lobbyists or anybody else.”
A THIRD WAY
Business License Manager Karen Duddlesten hinted at a third way: taking no action at all.
Council members could, she said, offer state regulators no opinion on applicants’ land use and licensing bona fides.
That would leave the ball in the state’s court when it comes to picking the city’s pot winners and losers.
“We have three types of recommendations,” Duddlesten explained. “A ‘no recommendation’ would mean taking no action on a compliance permit, allowing the applicant to go forward through the state process.
“So if they get state approval, that would allow them to be reheard by the City Council at a later date.”
NuLeaf CLV, a Las Vegas pot shop applicant owned by longtime California dispensary operators at Berkley Patients Group, is widely regarded as one of the more qualified hopefuls denied a Clark County dispensary permit this summer.
Company spokesman Bradley Mayer lauded both the city and the state’s dedication to a “merit-based” permit selection process but didn’t do much to dispel critics’ concerns over future lawsuits.
“I think it’s a valid concern,” Mayer said Friday. “It wasn’t contemplated in state law for local governments to usurp the state’s authority to distribute licenses.
“I think that some of the problems come in when high-ranked operators aren’t approved for a land use permit.”
Las Vegas leaders have set aside two spillover dates, Nov. 5 and Nov. 10, to hear applicants they might not have time to consider over the course of the city’s two-day October hearing window.
Mayer declined to comment on whether his firm would prefer to face City Council members before or after state regulators are expected to issue their report on applicants Nov. 3.
Contact James DeHaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3839. Follow @JamesDeHaven on Twitter.