A hazy future
Recreational marijuana for Washoe County?
Recreational use of marijuana is not yet legal in the state of Nevada, but the Washoe County Board of Commissioners is considering early steps toward regulating what may come. At a Feb. 9 meeting, the board listened to concerns from members of the public on proposed changes to existing medical marijuana regulations, and whether the use of recreational marijuana should be allowed in the county at all if legalized at the state level next November.
Medical marijuana use was approved by Nevada’s voters in 2000, and medical marijuana establishments such as dispensaries, cultivation centers, production facilities and laboratories were approved by Senate Bill 374 in 2013. Although these decisions made medical use of the drug legal in Nevada, it is still illegal at a federal level, and local jurisdictions were given the option of deciding whether or not to participate.
A ballot measure legalizing recreational use of marijuana in Nevada goes before voters in November, but if passed, it is currently unclear whether local jurisdictions will again have the opportunity to opt-out.
Up for discussion at the commission meeting was whether to ban recreational marijuana use in Washoe County in advance of this ballot measure. Several commissioners felt that it was too early to be making such decisions. “I do urge this board to tread lightly until we do see what this ballot question says,” cautioned commission chair Kitty Jung.
Options presented to the board by assistant county manager Kevin Schiller included disallowing use of recreational marijuana in unincorporated areas of Washoe County, making recreational use illegal in all of Washoe County, disallowing sales of recreational marijuana from medical marijuana dispensaries, or taking no action until after hearing from voters in November. No language is being prepared for making it legal.
“I am not opposed to that concept of medical marijuana at all,” said Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler. “I am, however, opposed to recreational marijuana. It would be my personal desire to completely ban it in Washoe County. However, I don’t know that I would have the votes on this committee to do that.”
In lieu of a preemptive ban, Berkbigler proposed changes to existing regulations so that no new marijuana facilities could be placed in residential areas, and that no recreational marijuana be sold from approved medical marijuana dispensaries without a full public hearing before the board.
Other concerns discussed by the Board regarding recreational marijuana establishments included potential for high vehicle traffic around dispensaries, the need to coordinate with law enforcement on how to approach public safety issues, the need to increase the required distance between new marijuana facilities and schools, and the need for more impact studies.
The Board directed staff to draft requirements for how to best regulate the possibility of marijuana sales in and around residential areas, and to require a full public hearing before allowing sales of recreational marijuana from medical marijuana facilities, if recreational use is approved by voters in 2016. They also voted to raise business license fees for marijuana establishments.
As for a ban on recreational marijuana use in Washoe County, the Board took no action.