Medical marijuana applications ready to be processed by April 1

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Updated: 2/18/2014 2:10 pm
RENO, Nev. ( & KRNV) -- April 1 is the deadline for Nevada to have everything ready to begin licensing for medical marijuana cultivation and dispensaries. The law was passed last spring, but the process now in the hands of state and local government is proving to be a complicated and lengthy one.

So when will patients be able to walk in to a legal dispensary? That depends who you ask. Nevada has had a medical marijuana program on the books since 2000. With the state's blessing, card-carrying patients could grow and use marijuana legally, but almost 14 years later, there is still no place to buy it.

Marla McDade Williams with the Division of Public and Behavioral Health says her department has been crafting a set of regulations that will determine who gets the green light to open a marijuana dispensary or cultivation center. "We are on track, we are going to make our April 1st deadline."

Nevada is only giving out 66 certificates statewide for dispensaries and about 200 for cultivation licenses. "Our job is to figure out the best way to sift through those and get to the best applicants," Williams said.

The best applicants are going to have to be legitimate business people with a lot of capital and clean records. Williams says in the first phase they have to show they have $250,000 dollars that can be liquidated withing 30 days, their past commitment to the state of Nevada in terms of financial contributions,
identify all partners who must past criminal background checks and have no convictions. They also need to say what property will house the facility, and show ownership or rental.

The application is more than 400 pages, and there are also requirements to show where the marijuana is from "seed to sale".

"They have to have a solid inventory control system," Williams said. "To ensure that we can track their product from the time they start growing it to the time it's sold out of a dispensary."

For an non-refundable $5,000, the state hopes to start accepting applications sometime in July and will have 10 days to review and rank the applications.

Then, officials will forward certificates to local governments, who will also have licensing processes in place. That is where State Senator Greg Brower is anticipating problems.

"It's proving to be problematic as the cities and counties try to implement licensing schemes," Brower said. "Because the federal law hasn't changed and possession using or selling marijuana for any purpose remains illegal."

Brower says under the state law, local governments can opt out and not give out any licenses.

Even if they are considering zoning for these types of businesses, they might be making decisions without legal counsel.

"Local city attorneys and DA's are unsure as to whether they can advise their clients, city council's and county commissions," Brower said. "Because under the state bar ethics rules, lawyers commit an ethical violation if they advise the client to break the law."

Under federal law, marijuana is still considered a Class 1 drug, which means these dispensaries could be considered criminal enterprises. "Frankly, I'm not sure all these complications can be worked out until and unless the federal law changes," said Brower.

Marla McDade Williams acknowledges the federal law is causing some concern for attorneys. "Some aren't advising their councils, but others are and they are continuing to work and develop regulations and ordinances at that level."

Williams says local governments need to take legal actions whether they will or will not permit marijuana facilities. If an applicant passes the state's regulations but the city or county says no, the applicant will be denied.

Just last week, attorneys working with Reno, Sparks and Washoe County decided they would not consult with the local governments on medical marijuana licensing until the Nevada Supreme Court issues an opinion on whether or not just the act of consulting would be violating the law.

As of right now, the Nevada Bar Association has a rule some think could put their law licenses in jeopardy.

Before that, the city of Reno, Sparks and Washoe County were all moving forward with trying to establish licensing.
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