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Nevada court allows pot ownership records to stay confidential

Updated August 3, 2017 - 10:30 pm

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that the names of people licensed to operate medical marijuana establishments can remain confidential and unavailable to the public.

The opinion, released Thursday, stems from a public records lawsuit that the Reno Gazette-Journal filed against the city of Sparks in 2015. The city granted the newspaper’s public records request for information but redacted names from business licenses. A followup request for unredacted copies was denied by the Reno suburb.

The ruling is a setback for open government advocates. It also reverses a lower district court order requiring Sparks to disclose the information.

The supreme court found that the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health, under Nevada law, had the authority to adopt regulations that make the information confidential. The court held that the Legislature “intended to expand the grant of confidentiality beyond the then-existing medical marijuana-related statutes to include the identifying information of MME business license holders,” the opinion says.

Barry Smith, director of the Nevada Press Association, said he disagrees with the decision. But he stressed the problem also lies with the way the regulation is written, which needs to be fixed.

Absent a change, keeping the names under wraps makes it difficult for the public to scrutinize the decisions of elected officials for potential conflicts of interest, he said.

In general, business licenses are a public record that municipalities readily make available, including through web portals.

Sparks is an outlier in its decision to withhold the information compared to other Nevada municipalities. Clark County, for example, provided the Las Vegas Review-Journal with the names of business licensees for medical marijuana when the industry emerged in 2014, mainly redacting proprietary financial information.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.

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