CARSON CITY, Nev. — Recreational marijuana shops could open in Nevada as early as July 1 under a timeline proposed by the state’s top tax official Wednesday.
Regulators at the state Department of Taxation have been crafting rules and deadlines to govern recreational marijuana since Nevada voters legalized it for adults 21 and older in November.
Executive Director Deonne Contine told a panel of state lawmakers that she expects to publicize a draft of those regulations in March and begin accepting applications for temporary licenses to sell recreational cannabis in May — well in advance of the state’s Jan. 1, 2018 deadline.
Temporary licenses will be open only to medical marijuana shops in good standing with the state. Contine said she’s aiming to green-light those businesses to sell to the public by July 1.
Based on Contine’s tentative timeline, any entrepreneur could apply for a license to sell recreational marijuana in Nevada as soon as October 2018. The latest that could happen is July 2019.
Nevada’s regulations will borrow heavily from the state’s medical marijuana rules and Colorado’s recreational marijuana rules, Contine said. They’ll include a formula to set the wholesale price of cannabis, which will determine how much the state collects under a voter-approved 15 percent excise tax. They regulations also define who can transport marijuana and how.
While tax regulators work on those rules, an official who oversees the state’s medical marijuana industry, Joe Pollock, is growing concerned of how commercial cannabis will affect the drug landscape in Nevada.
“Basically the rurals don’t have dispensaries,” Pollock said of medical marijuana shops. “If anything, I would be worried that the black market would move toward those rural counties because the recreational marijuana will not be available conveniently in those counties.”
Of the roughly 25,000 medical marijuana patients in Nevada, 482 of them are under the age of 21, according to Pollock, deputy administrator of the state’s Division of Public and Behavioral Health. Unless Nevada ensures medical cards and prices less expensive than recreational cannabis, Pollock said, those minors are some of the only patients with an incentive to continue using the medical track.
On Thursday, a Democratic lawmaker from Las Vegas argued before his colleagues that Nevada’s history of promoting vices and the state’s lax laws on smoking indoors make it prime to legalize the nation’s first public sites to use marijuana.
Cities and counties in Nevada would have the authority to license public places or events where adults could legally use marijuana under state Sen. Tick Segerblom’s proposal.
State law currently confines the marijuana use to private homes.
Segerblom said Nevada should give local governments the discretion to designate businesses, festivals, casino bars, clubs, outdoor events, massage parlors or other public spaces where the tens of millions of tourists who visit Nevada every year could smoke or consume cannabis. Segerblom urged his colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which he is chairman, to acknowledge that many tourists will buy recreational marijuana and, as far as the state knows, have nowhere to legally use it.
“My thought is, rather than not knowing and making it a hazard for the police and everybody else, let’s provide them a venue,” Segerblom said. “We don’t want them, I don’t think, just out there in the park with your kids or walking up and down the Strip smoking marijuana.”
Senate Bill 236 would prohibit local governments from issuing the licenses to locations within 1,000 feet of a school or community facility and state regulations already bar marijuana from being used around gambling activities. Casinos could request to allow marijuana at a bar, but not at card tables or slot machines.
Details would largely be left to cities and counties. They could grant cannabis licenses a short- or long-term basis, require licensing fees and attach a special set of penalties for any misuse of marijuana at the venue.
“The history of Nevada is, when we were low on revenue, we would authorize things like gambling that no other state would do,” Segerblom said, adding Nevada was one of the first states to sanction — and tax — early divorces. “The question is: Will marijuana become another one of these vices or pleasures?”
Nevada is one of eight states with legalized recreational marijuana. None currently allows its use in public.
Maine and Massachusetts will allow the licensing of cannabis social clubs or consumption at dispensaries once their recreational marijuana industries are fully implemented, which is not expected until 2018.
No such licenses have yet been issued in those states and they would not allow marijuana use outdoors, at festivals or many other settings that could be certified under Segerblom’s proposal.
State senators in Colorado on Thursday advanced a measure that would legalize cannabis social clubs in that state.