Nevada’s pot o’ green

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Two weeks ago, a Senate committee cleared a bill that, at a whopping $20,000 per licensing fee, permits medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the state of Nevada. While medical marijuana itself is already legal in Nevada, the creation of dispensaries will bring a highly lucrative industry to the Silver State that will contribute some much-needed revenue.

Less than a week after the bill was cleared, the first school dedicated to educating Nevadans on how to properly own and operate a medical marijuana dispensary officially opened. The “Budtender School,” which is run by the national Cannabis Career Institute, operates workshops out of Las Vegas-adjacent Henderson to impart the necessary business and horticultural skills to make a dispensary a success. According to an interview conducted by the Associated Press with the CCI founder Robert Calkin, “a successful marijuana dispensary can earn $250,000 a year … and the average dispensary in Arizona can make up to $10,000 a day.”

Aaron Smith, a reporter for CNNMoney, wrote at the end of 2012 that estimated post-legalization tax revenue for Washington could run as high as (possibly overstated) $500 million. That’s not to mention the saved costs in law enforcement, legal fees, imprisonment and gang-related activity that could be avoided with legalization. In 2011, the New York Times reported that Colorado pulled in $5 million in sales taxes from medical marijuana dispensaries. That kind of revenue could be a much-needed boon to the Nevada economy.

In an interview with AzBusiness Magazine, Dhar Mann, the founder of the chain of hydroponic supply stores called weGrow, said that each medical marijuana dispensary provides somewhere between 15 and 20 direct jobs, but about 75 indirect jobs (such as an on-site doctor, professors to teach classes, distributors and other non-sales positions) are also created. With the increased number of medical marijuana dispensaries in Nevada, I will be interested to see what positive economic growth will come from their presence. An influx of such positions could be even more magnified with recreational dispensaries, but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

While recreational marijuana won’t be legalized during this legislative session in Nevada because a bill to legalize it died in an Assembly committee on April 12, the recent legalization in Washington and Colorado—as well as an increase in overall national support—might mean Nevada is right around the corner. According to a poll conducted last month by the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of Americans favor marijuana legalization. For the first time ever, there is a majority pro-legalization vote on this long-debated issue.

In the U.S., marijuana has been one of those substances that has long been controlled by a nanny state that is trying to save people from themselves. Its association with alternative lifestyles and perceived addictive and “gateway drug” qualities (See? Drug Abuse Resistance Education left its stubborn footprints on my young brain) has left a negative image with the American public. But even the National Cancer Institute recognizes marijuana as a legitimate method of symptom management which includes such benefits as “antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep.” The scope of marijuana as medicine has been extensively studied, but access and legality of studies have remained relatively stunted and still have room for development.

I don’t smoke pot, but to me, it’s like any other personal liberty: If you aren’t deciding for yourself, then Uncle Sam is deciding for you. If marijuana can be consumed responsibly and if punishment for misuse is strictly enforced (like DUIs are for alcohol), then Nevada could easily take the opportunity to boost state revenue and, in its long tradition of doing so, lead the nation in open-minded liberties.