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Recreational pot stores in parts of Clark County face uncertainty

The Clark County Commission continues to wrestle with the idea of recreation-only marijuana dispensaries.

Out of 31 provisional licenses that Nevada awarded to Clark County three weeks ago, 10 were for recreational dispensaries in unincorporated parts of the county. While expected, it appeared to represent a fundamental shift from how the industry was sold to policymakers.

At least some county commissioners have intertwined the recreational and medical marijuana industries as inseparable, broaching the idea of standalone recreation stores with unease over the prospect that the medical element could become an afterthought in favor of profit.

The state allocations would presumably add to the 26 stores already permitted to sell recreational cannabis in the unincorporated parts of the county. However, none of the existing stores may operate without also holding a medical marijuana license to offer product to patients, who receive discounts.

The medicinal benefit was the central pitch from proprietors when the commission greenlighted medical dispensaries in 2014 and authorized those stores to add recreational products three years later.

“I think this board has been consistent that medical needs to be a component of it,” Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said.

Concerns raised

Wielding the discretion over whether the 10 permit-holders may actually get up and running, the commission unanimously reaffirmed on Dec. 18 a moratorium on processing any recreational-only applications through July 1.

Companies awarded provisional licenses were immediately unnerved, particularly because, under state law, they have a year to become operational or risk losing the license.

“Even a short-term moratorium by the county’s going to put us in a bad spot,” said Dan Brown, representing CPCM Holdings, the parent company of Thrive Cannabis Marketplace, which maintains two dispensaries, in downtown Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, and was awarded a recreational-only license in the unincorporated part of the county.

The move by commissioners was not borne entirely from protecting the marriage of medical and recreational cannabis as a matter of policy. Outgoing Commissioner Susan Brager said dispensary owners had offered unsolicited above-and-beyond pledges to benefit the community at the onset of the industry’s arrival, then wavered.

Brager, who is termed out, noted concerns about some dispensaries that included: the lack of documented charitable benefit; cashing in by selling ownership, making it difficult to determine if, and how much, money was leaving the state; and the penchant to play up the recreational side and advertise the “psychedelic crap.”

“Don’t tell me it’s not about money,” she said. “Make money, but benefit our community.”

She was also apprehensive about the state allocation process and was upset that some companies were awarded multiple licenses while others received none.

Brown said CPCM had given “several hundred thousand dollars” to charities in the past year. Brian Greenspun, a dispensary investor and publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, pushed back against any insinuation his business dealings were less than originally advertised: “I have never gone back on my word.”

As part of the moratorium, outgoing Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who is also termed out, said county officials will provide guidance to dispensary owners on how to assist nonprofits, though there exists no enforcement mechanism to ensure they do.

Rethinking regulations

Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak doubted that the county’s recreational moratorium was clear to investors, some of whom said they had not heard about delayed licensing until this month.

The lack of clarity is emblematic of marijuana regulations statewide, Sisolak said, adding that it was unfair to businesses that have invested millions of dollars and that he was working with state officials on regulatory continuity.

“I’ve heard nothing but confusion as it relates to Clark County, as it relates to (other jurisdictions), all of them,” he said. “I just don’t think that we have been transparent about this, and that’s going to change. If it doesn’t change at the county, it’s changing at the state level because I cannot personally accept what’s going on right now.”

New blood

Brager and Giunchigliani’s replacements on the County Commission, two pro-cannabis policymakers in Tick Segerblom and Justin Jones, both indicated Friday it may be too early to tell how they’ll approach the moratorium when they are sworn in next month.

For Segerblom, it’s largely because he has a conflict of interest until Jan. 15, when he said he will step down as board member of a company that received a provisional license. However, he suggested that the monthslong freeze period “may be overly lengthy,” and that the commission should arrive at a compromise that balances the will of the voters who backed recreational marijuana and the desire to keep medical cannabis at the forefront.

Jones noted that he worked with Segerblom in getting the recreational law on the books while the two were in the Legislature. He said he was “still trying to get up to speed” on the details of what preceded the moratorium, adopting a “wait-and-see approach,” while also acknowledging how the industry was initially embraced.

“I think that it’s important that we provide support for medical marijuana,” he said, “because that’s how it was originally sold.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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