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State, Clark County tangle over medical pot

Nearly half of the 18 medical marijuana dispensary applications that Clark County commissioners approved have an uncertain fate, as they failed to win state support.

The development has brought about frustration and unanswered questions among county officials and applicants who are now in limbo.

The county and the state face a quandary as Nevada prepares to welcome the new industry: The state has approved only 10 of the county’s 18 selected dispensaries.

The final result could be that the county ends up with only 10 dispensaries instead of its 18 in early 2015. But that isn’t a foregone conclusion — or a desire of county commissioners. County officials are still researching the issue and said Tuesday they plan to revisit the issue at a Dec. 3 meeting.

Regardless of what happens then, the eight dispensary applicants that cleared the state will have to wait at least another two weeks before knowing if they can begin planning with certainty. The eight other applicants who made it through the county process, meanwhile, have bleak prospects as state officials signaled late Tuesday they won’t be ranking any more applicants for the multimillion-dollar opportunities.

But both sides have attorneys. No one from county officials to industry insiders is predicting the outcome of the Dec. 3 meeting — or whether the matter will end up in court and delay opening medical marijuana dispensaries.

“You can have 10 dispensaries in Clark County, or consider those that have provisional licenses from the state,” Rory Reid, a former commissioner and attorney representing Medifarm, an applicant approved by the state, told commissioners.

The results show the complex nature of the application process for the state’s fledgling medical marijuana industry, which requires applicants who want to set up shop in unincorporated Clark County to have the blessing of both the county and the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health, part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Competition has been keen. Seventy-nine applicants sought 18 dispensary slots for unincorporated areas.

What is left now are 26 applicants who have obtained approval from the county, the state — or both. Ten have the green light from both. Another eight more were ranked by the county but didn’t make the cut with the state.

And a separate group of eight applicants didn’t get a ranking from the county but scored high enough in the state’s process to rank. Commissioners anticipate revisiting those eight dispensaries at December’s meeting. They could make a decision about whether to rank them, which would give the county more dispensaries, or reject them.

Commissioners aren’t predicting that outcome just yet, though. Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak placed a call to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office on Tuesday after the meeting. The two hadn’t talked as of late Tuesday afternoon.

Commissioners sharply criticized the state for not being transparent and not being forthcoming in answering their questions about the ranking process.

“I’m really disappointed in the complete lack of transparency that’s come out of the state,” Sisolak said.

The state’s criteria included several factors, such as the experience and background of applicants, impact on the community, and transportation and security plans.

Commissioners looked at all of those factors but also focused on zoning and the need to spread the dispensaries throughout the area.

The decisions weren’t always close. The county didn’t rank an application from Tryke Companies SO NV, a limited liability company. But that application scored highest on the state’s ranking.

Jeff Silver, the company’s attorney, encouraged commissioners to take that into account. Silver also noted the commissioners had suggested approving more than 18 dispensaries to avoid this situation.

“I’m only saying this is a very delicate situation when it comes to complying with the law,” Silver said.

Dennis Kennedy, who represents seven applicants granted county permits through commission votes, but not state permits, had a different take.

“First and foremost, there is nothing in state law that requires the commission to bow to the state and wait until the state has made a determination,” he said.

Commissioners said they took location and geographic dispersion into account, while the state did not.

The 10 dispensaries with success on both fronts aren’t as widely dispersed throughout the county. Eight are west of Las Vegas Boulevard, and only one is east of the Strip. The other one is in Laughlin. Of the eight that the state didn’t rank, four were on the east side of the valley.

County commissioners said they were disappointed that the state hasn’t answered the county’s questions.

County Manager Don Burnette sent a letter on Thursday to Chad Westom, bureau chief of the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

The county wanted to know what happens if dispensaries that receive a provisional certificate from the state but lack county approval. The county has asked if the state will issue additional provisional certificates to ranked applicants beyond the 18 dispensaries allowed in unincorporated areas.

Burnette’s letter cited minutes of Westom’s testimony from a state advisory commission meeting on July 19, where the state official said a denial at the local level would lead to the state denying them and letting Clark County know who the next ranked entity is.

The state’s response didn’t come until late Tuesday afternoon.

After the meeting, state officials notified the county in writing that the division cannot issue provisional certificates to any more applicants beyond the 18 it ranked because the 90-day application review period has ended. That period expired Nov. 3.

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

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