CARSON CITY, NV — Thirteen years after 65 percent of Nevada voters approved the medical use of marijuana, patients will soon have legal access to their medicine as Republican Governor Brian Sandoval signed Senate Bill 374 into law Wednesday evening.
The bill, introduced by Las Vegas Democrat Senator Tick Segerblom, establishes the framework for medical marijuana dispensaries to open state wide, while allowing patients to continue growing their own marijuana until 2016.
“We applaud Gov. Sandoval and the legislature for their leadership and commend those law enforcement organizations that expressed support for this much-needed legislation,” said Karen O’Keefe, Director of State Policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “It will make Nevada a safer and healthier place not only for medical marijuana patients, but for the entire community.
The bill was passed in the final days of the legislative session, first in the Senate and then the Assembly, following an emergency declaration by lawmakers to push the bill through in the final weekend.
The law will 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. In addition to standard sales taxes, medical marijuana will be subject to excise taxes of 2% on wholesale sales and 2% on retail sales.
During debates on the bill, some lawmakers 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), a conservative who has voted against marijuana bills in the past, but was a primary sponsor of 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 have been stuck in a legal grey area, 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.
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 will be strictly regulated with oversight by the Department of Health and Human Services. Marijuana will be required to be grown in an enclosed, locked facility. Also among the requirements will 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 measure establishes the framework to make pot available to medical marijuana card holders, and imposes fees and requirements for growers, processors and dispensaries. The revenue created will fund the regulation and oversight of the dispensaries, with any remaining revenue will be funneled to education.
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.