Gov. Steve Sisolak announced last week that he’s “outraged” — really, really mad — about potential corruption in the state’s fledgling marijuana industry, so he has formed a task force to investigate the issue.
The panel will be “robust, real, significant and substantial,” Michelle White, the governor’s chief of staff, insisted on Friday.
What pushed the governor into a lather, among other things, was a federal indictment in New York alleging campaign finance violations against a handful of foreign nationals. One of the allegations involves their supposed attempts to gain influence with political figures in order to advance their business agendas, including an effort to land a Nevada retail marijuana license.
Adam Laxalt, a Republican who lost to Gov. Sisolak in 2018, and Wesley Duncan, the GOP’s failed candidate for lieutenant governor that same year, each received $10,000 from one of the men. Both campaigns said last week they would return the donations. There are no allegations that Mr. Laxalt or Mr. Duncan acted inappropriately.
Putting aside the politics, the governor’s outrage seems, at best, contrived. Who could be surprised that Nevada’s legalization of recreational marijuana — which created a regulatory system that gives state bureaucrats and local elected officials large sway over both the number of available pot licenses and who receives them — would trigger charges of impropriety and influence peddling?
Then there’s the fact that Gov. Sisolak himself is right in the middle of all this. As chairman of the Clark County Commission, he “took the lead on local licensing matters and was as instrumental as any public official in shepherding the budding cannabis industry through the first round of approvals,” noted Dana Gentry of the Nevada Current.
Let’s remember, too, that until recently the licensing process was shrouded in secrecy, creating a breeding ground for unscrupulous dealings. Because state laws governing medical marijuana were applied to recreational pot after voters in 2016 opted for legalization, the Nevada Taxation Department kept secret the names of those who had been awarded the lucrative licenses and the agency’s reasoning behind such decisions. Jilted interests have responded with the usual lawsuits.
Not surprisingly, the marijuana cash fever infected Nevada lawmakers. After voters approved legalization under the guise that pot taxes would help fund the public schools, lawmakers created a second levy on the industry to siphon money into the state’s general fund.
By all means let’s root out corruption in the marijuana industry — or anywhere else. But given the circumstances, who could have expected anything less than the unseemly juicefest that followed legalization? News to Gov. Sisolak: Those big buildings on the Strip that fund one-third of the state budget? There’s gambling going on inside.