CARSON CITY, NV – The Nevada Assembly voted 28-14 Monday to pass a bill establishing marijuana dispensaries.
The bill was passed last week by the Senate by a 17-4 vote and needed swift action by the Assembly as the legislature adjourns for the 2013 session at midnight.
An amendment to the bill by the Assembly needs final approval from the Senate before the bill is sent to the desk of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has said he will consider the proposal.
Under Senate Bill 374, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in April, and received a favorable “do pass” recommendation from the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, the state Board of Pharmacy would be charged with regulating and overseeing medical marijuana dispensaries across the state.
The bill would allow up to 40 medical marijuana dispensaries in the Las Vegas area, 20 in Reno, two in Carson City and one in each of Nevada’s remaining rural counties.
Some senators have expressed that while they do not endorse the use of medical marijuana, which was approved by Nevada voters in 2000, they are supporting the bill because it is their responsibility as lawmakers to ensure that the will of the voters and the intentions of the law are upheld.
“It doesn’t matter what I think about the wisdom of using marijuana,” said Sen. Mark Hutchison (R-Las Vegas), an anti-marijuana conservative who supports the dispensary bill. “If you believe in the rule of law, we cannot pick which constitutional rights we should support.”
People with medical marijuana authorization in Nevada are stuck in a legal grey area, lawmakers say, and many are confused as to whether they have purchased marijuana illegally.
When sixty-five percent of voters approved Question 9 , legalizing medical marijuana in the state, there was no provision in the bill authorizing medical marijuana dispensaries. Patients or their caregivers are allowed to grow up to seven plants and possess up to an ounce of marijuana.
But because obtaining marijuana seeds is illegal, as well as difficult growing conditions in the Nevada desert, patients and lawmakers alike agree that access to medical marijuana is limited for the states 3,645 registered cardholders.
Senate Bill 374, introduced in March by Senator Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, would authorize and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries to serve about 3,600 Nevadans with medical marijuana cards. The majority of patients registered with the Nevada state medical medical marijuana program are between the ages of 55 and 64.
“Let’s go back and do what we should have done 10 years ago,” Segerblom said earlier this year. “It’s something that it’s time has come. Colorado has it. Arizona has it. California has it. Oregon has it. Washington State has it. We’re surrounded by it.”
“We’re going to hear lots of reasons why we can’t do it, we shouldn’t do it, but to me, if Arizona, which is the most conservative state in the country, can do it, then Nevada can do it,” Segerblom added.
Under Sen. Segerblom’s proposal, the dispensaries would be strictly regulated with oversight by the Department of Health and Human Services. Marijuana would be required to be grown in an enclosed, locked facility.
Also among the requirements would be 24-hour video surveillance at farms and dispensaries.
The bill also establishes the maximum fees which may be charged by the Health Division for registration certificates, and creates basic requirements for operating a dispensary, while allowing the Health Division to adopt any necessary regulations for the program.
The bill also increases the amounts of usable marijuana and live marijuana plants that a holder of a registry identification card and his or her designated primary caregiver are allowed to possess at any one time, matching the amounts allowed under the laws of the State of Arizona.
The bill also adds in safeguards against defrauding the medical marijuana program in Nevada, adding a stipulation to the law that makes forging a medical marijuana registration card a criminal offense, punishable by up to four years in prison.
Last year, a Las Vegas district court judge declared Nevada’s medical marijuana law unconstitutional, while criticizing the state’s lack of a defined distribution system for the medicine.
In his decision, which is currently awaiting an appeal hearing by the state’s Supreme Court, Judge Donald Mosley was highly critical of the state’s medical marijuana law, saying it falls short in providing a “realistic manner” in which qualified patients can obtain their medicine.