Legal weed turns 2, endures growing pains

Marijuana at a Las Vegas cultivation facility. Photo: Dana Gentry

Nevada’s legal cannabis industry raked in $81.2 million in tax revenue for the first 10 months of the fiscal year ending in July 2019. That’s already well ahead of the $69.7 million in tax revenue generated during the fiscal year ending July 2018, the first year of recreational sales. 

Thanks to a recent legislative change, revenue from the 10 percent retail tax (roughly half the tax revenue generated) will go directly to the state’s education fund, rather than the state’s Rainy Day fund, as it has in the past. 

Additionally, local governments are putting revenue generated by marijuana licensing fees to work. 

“We’re paying $12 million a year for the homeless,” Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom told a crowd of cannabis industry representatives gathered Monday to observe the second anniversary of legal recreational sales. Commissioners decided recently to fund efforts to help young people receive the assistance they need to break out of homelessness. 

The gathering at Oasis Dispensary on Industrial Road in Las Vegas focused on legislative achievements, including a measure now in effect that allows those with non-violent marijuana offenses to have their records sealed.

Assembly Bill 192 allows those convicted of activities now decriminalized or legalized to request the court to seal those records. Courts may not charge petitioners, and objections by the state must be filed within 10 days. The new law took effect on July 1, 2019.

Similar laws have been enacted in California, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Rhode Island and Utah.

“This session was all about justice,” Assemblyman William McCurdy, who sponsored AB 192, told the group. “We all know the negative impacts of the failed war on drugs and the disproportionate impact on communities of color.”

A bill that prohibits most employers from conducting pre-employment drug screens for cannabis will go into effect in December. 

AB 132 was a journey, let’s just say that.” Assemblywoman Dina Neal said of the measure. “The bill was not perfect. We had two hours of opposition (testimony) at our very first hearing.” 

“We had individuals who needed to go to work and it didn’t make sense how the state could make millions of dollars on the sale of marijuana and then turn around and prevent individuals from going to work,” Neal said. “If it’s going to be regulated like alcohol, it has to be treated like alcohol, without discrimination.” 

“When I saw her bill, the first thing I thought was ‘I hope I didn’t sign on to this,’” Assemblyman Steve Yeager quipped. “I thought after that hearing, there’s no way that’s going to pass.” 

The Catch-22 in Nevada’s cannabis law — the ability of millions of tourists to purchase product against the backdrop of a law prohibiting use anywhere but a private home — remains to be resolved. 

What’s a visitor to do? 

“Stick to vape pens and edibles,” Yeager said, cautioning against smelly, attention-getting marijuana smoking. 

Neal, who opposes cannabis consumption lounges but is entertaining avenues for small businesses to share the wealth of the burgeoning industry, admits the constant smell of reefer wafting along Strip sidewalks poses a threat to attracting and retaining visitors with children. 

“If you’re a tourist you can smoke in your room,” Neal said. However, doing so can incur a hefty fine levied by hotels, which are especially averse to the substance. 

“They are one of the largest stakeholders,” McCurdy said of the casino industry. “As we evolve, we’re going to come up with something that’s beneficial to everyone.” 

The Nevada Resort Association, which represents casino interests, warns rubbing shoulders with the cannabis industry could jeopardize licensees in states where marijuana remains illegal. Additionally, publicly traded gaming companies are subject to federal law, which classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has no recognized medical use and a high likelihood of abuse, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“I understand where they are coming from,” Yeager said. “Clearly there’s a clash of interest between gaming and Nevada consumers, but that’s not unique to Nevada.” 

Opposition to cannabis lounges from the gaming industry is not the only obstacle to public consumption. 

“How are you going to have a consumption lounge that’s economically viable?” Yeager said. 

“If you’re going to allow existing dispensaries to have them, you’re further concentrating wealth in those already in the industry. But if you have a standalone, what’s the economic model that makes sense?” 

Yeager said he and other lawmakers travelled to San Francisco where licensed dispensaries can have lounges. 

“I’m not sure that’s the best model for our state,” he said. “And we have the next two years to figure out how do we do this right so we can bring other players into this space to partake.”

Dana Gentry
Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana is the mother of four adult children, three cats, three dogs and a cockatoo.

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