State seeks input on medical marijuana regulations

CARSON CITY — During a hearing dominated by technical problems Friday, the state began asking residents what they want in regulations for Nevada’s new medical marijuana program.

At times witnesses giving their ideas could not be heard because of loud music and talking by others. Marla McDade-Williams, the deputy administrator of the Division of Public and Behavioral Health, pleaded for people to show more courtesy.

The hearing was teleconferenced between Las Vegas and Carson City, but dozens, if not hundreds, of people also listened in through telephone conference calls. One person put his speaker phone on hold, a step that led to the playing of his loud music. Other people just talked, unaware their voices could be heard.

In Las Vegas, some people complained there were not enough copies of the tentative regulations available for them to read.

Hearings continue Monday and Tuesday as the state tries to adopt regulations by April 1 that put into effect a law passed by the Legislature. The law requires the state to license marijuana grow farms and dispensaries where the state’s 4,000 residents with medical marijuana cards can acquire their medication.

Voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1998 and 2000 to allow citizens with doctors’ permission to use marijuana for medical reasons. But the 2001 law that implemented the amendment required patients to grow their own marijuana, a step that some were unable to accomplish.

Others states with medical marijuana programs allow patients to buy marijuana through licensed dispensaries, and legislators approved that plan in June. Now the state must adopt regulations before the new law can be put into effect.

McDade-Williams said she was not sure how many people listened in by conference call Friday, but she noted that 350 people are signed up to receive information about developments in the medical marijuana program.

Additional hearings will be conducted this fall before the regulations are approved.

The tentative plans would require people interested in testing marijuana, or operating grow farms or dispensaries, to have at least $250,000 available.

One person said the testing lab regulations must define how often and when “batches” of marijuana should be tested. Others said marijuana must be checked for the presence of pesticides.

A man complained that the nonrefundable $5,000 cost of seeking a grow license is exorbitant, while another asked where growers legally can obtain seeds. A woman said the state should allow small mom-and-pop boutique growers, similar to people who grow specialty tomatoes.

Where legal cultivators can grow marijuana will depend on local zoning ordinances, McDade-Williams told the crowd, because the law does not address that issue. Lyon County commissioners already have outlawed dispensaries in unincorporated parts of the county, and others are expected to enact similar bans.

That there is money to be made from peddling marijuana was clear from people who spoke Friday. Many were lawyers or veteran legislative lobbyists.

While the regulations only will apply to medical marijuana, Nevadans could in the next few years pass a ballot question to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults, like Colorado and Washington did last year.

The Marijuana Policy Project of Washington, D.C., has announced that it will circulate petitions in Nevada in 2016 to put a marijuana legalization question on the ballot.

Two similar questions failed in the past, but a poll released Thursday by the Retail Association of Nevada shows overwhelming support for legal marijuana if state taxes on the product go to education.

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