Watchdog committee on cannabis industry quietly disappears

By: - December 10, 2019 6:49 am

A cannabis bud in a grow house. (Nevada Current file photo)

How should THC content in cannabis be measured?  What’s an acceptable daily intake of pesticides for an adult consuming marijuana?  How about an acceptable level of metals?

Such are the questions that could have been raised, debated and settled by the scientists and industry experts who once comprised the state’s Independent Laboratory Advisory Committee (ILAC).

UNR scientist Glenn Miller was one of those scientists who volunteered his services to the board for years. He was unceremoniously relieved of his position by the state.

“When I got the notice of the March meeting, my name wasn’t on the list of members,” Miller said. “That’s quite a notification.”

The Department of Taxation, which regulates marijuana in Nevada — at least for now —  isn’t saying what’s become of the committee, which offered the public an opportunity to comment on the turbulent cannabis industry.

Minutes from ILAC’s last meeting in August make mention of the committee’s uncertain future, and an apparent desire to justify its existence to Gov. Steve Sisolak, given the impending transfer of regulatory authority from Taxation to the Cannabis Compliance Board, a creation of Sisolak’s administration.

“(Taxation department official) Steve Gilbert stated the Department can explain the use of ILAC over the years to the Governor’s office,” the minutes say. “ILAC is in the regulations so those would have to change in order for it to discontinue. The work of ILAC should continue as it has been.”

Sisolak did not respond to requests for comment regarding the apparent dissolution of ILAC.

“It’s a shit show, excuse me, poop show at Taxation right now,” observed former ILAC member Jason Sturtsman, citing the upcoming transition of regulatory power to yet another agency — the third in the fledgling industry’s history.

Minutes for ILAC meetings dating back to Spring had not been posted on the state’s website until the Current inquired.

As of last week, the website page for ILAC featured the committee in its former iteration, before Miller and Sturtsman were relieved of their duties.

On Monday, the page was updated with ILAC’s new members, several who were appointed at what proved to be the committee’s final meeting in August.  Largely absent are descriptions of their connections to laboratories or marijuana enterprises.  Only one member, former chair Ed Alexander, was reappointed.

“There was no process for applying. People were just appointing themselves,” a source with ties to the industry said. “When you take someone like Glenn Miller off, what’s the point? Taxation was like ‘we could fix this and tell you to do it.  We just don’t have time.’”

Miller says input from members of the committee, who possess knowledge that would have been useful to regulators, was frequently ignored.

“They (Department of Taxation) would ask for our recommendations, then disregard them,” he says. “Then they’d decide what they wanted to do and come back and say ‘Is this okay with you?’ No. It’s not! But it didn’t matter.”

ILAC was created via the Nevada Administrative Code to address issues that confronted the Division of Health during the initial regulation of medical marijuana.

The committee was to be “representative of the independent testing laboratories and other medical marijuana establishments in this State,” according to the NAC.

The demise of the committee comes as the industry grapples with allegations of THC manipulation in Nevada labs and as the state intensifies efforts to implement testing of the testers.

A provision of AB 533, the legislation that created the Cannabis Compliance Board, says the Board “may establish a program to ensure the integrity of all testing performed by a cannabis independent testing laboratory by subjecting each such laboratory to random laboratory assurance checks.”

A state spokeswoman says the Taxation Department is seeking a “third-party vendor to develop and conduct interlaboratory testing” and the state “takes all allegations of impropriety very seriously and will continue to exhaust its full suite of resources to ensure the industry remains safe and properly regulated.”

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

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 has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.