Cannabis board member’s firm has deep ties with cannabis industry

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Cannabis Compliance Board appointee and former Gaming Control Board chair Dennis Neilander. (kcnvlaw.com photo)
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Cannabis Compliance Board appointee and former Gaming Control Board chair Dennis Neilander. (kcnvlaw.com photo)

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak today appointed two Nevadans to serve on the newly-created Cannabis Compliance Board, and one selection appears to conflict with provisions in the law that created the board, which is slated to assume regulatory control of Nevada’s troubled cannabis industry. 

Sisolak named former Gaming Control Board chairman Dennis Neilander, who is currently a gaming attorney with Kaempfer Crowell, a law firm with deep roots in the cannabis industry. 

Assembly Bill 533, passed by the 2019 Nevada Legislature, prohibits a member of the CCB from being “pecuniarily interested in any business or organization holding a license under this title or doing business with any person or organization holding a license or registration card under this title.”

Kaempfer Crowell routinely represents marijuana interests, primarily in land use matters before local governments. It represented two successful applicants — Clear River and CW Nevada — in Clark County’s initial round of medical marijuana dispensary licensing in 2014, a process led by then-County Commission Chairman Sisolak. 

A spokesman for the Governor says Neilander is “walled off” from cannabis-related matters at the firm.

Mr. Neilander has an Of-Counsel relationship with Kaempfer Crowell and, therefore, does not share in profits with the firm,” said Ryan McInerny. “His legal practice area is entirely focused on Gaming, which precludes him from having any pecuniary interests or representing clients in the Cannabis industry. Mr. Neilander has never represented a Cannabis client. Going forward, Mr. Nielander will continue to be walled off from all Cannabis-related matters at his firm.”

Robert Crowell, listed on Kaempfer Crowell’s website as a retired stockholder, is the mayor of Carson City.  Crowell routinely participates and votes on marijuana matters before the council, despite his firm’s involvement in the industry. 

Former Department of Taxation director Deonne Contine, who regulated the marijuana industry, went to work at Kaempfer Crowell shortly after leaving her position with the state. She was later appointed Director of Administration by Sisolak but resigned after just a few months, a departure that coincided with the Current reporting that Contine served on the board of a marijuana company. 

Sisolak also named former Nevada Supreme Court Justice Michael Douglas to chair the CCB. 

“I think they’re highly qualified,” said Riana Durrett, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association. “Chairman Douglas is known for being thorough, conscientious, and deeply analytical. Member Nielander’s experience in gaming will be invaluable.”

Durrett, who is married to State Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, would not comment on Neilander’s employment posing a potential conflict of interest.  

Attorney Tisha Black, President of the Nevada Dispensary Association, praised Sisolak’s appointment of Douglas.

“It will bring some formalized structures, systems and decorum to the regulatory process,” Black said. 

Last month the Current reported a Department of Taxation whistleblower went to the FBI with his concerns regarding cannabis regulation, including allegations that state officials ordered him to purge investigative records.

Commission members are paid $20,000 a year while the chair is paid $27,500.

This story was updated with comment from Gov. Sisolak’s office.

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.