Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 | 5:48 p.m.
Despite some Republican opposition, the Legislative Interim Finance Committee agreed today to release $1.8 million to lay the groundwork for starting the expanded medical marijuana program in April.
The Nevada Legislature passed a bill earlier this year that allows for the creation of a legal medical marijuana dispensary system after years of legal confusion over the current law. The Nevada Public and Behavioral Health Division has been tasked with developing regulations.
Marla McDade Williams, deputy administrator of the Public and Behavioral Health Division, said she expects an influx of applications from proposed dispensaries, growers, producers of edible marijuana products, and independent testing labs.
When regulations are completed by April 1, the division has 10 days to accept applications. Then it has 90 days to make a decision about which applicants to grant licenses to. Williams said the applicants will be judged on their background, financial solvency, business experience and knowledge of medical marijuana — only the top applicants will be processed.
She expects a total of 150 licenses to be issued in the first go-around.
The state will grant licenses to 66 dispensaries statewide that can sell medical marijuana — 40 in Clark County, 10 in Washoe County, two in Carson City and one each in the remaining rural counties.
But some committee members questioned whether local governments would authorize that many dispensaries. Although the state will set broad guidelines, municipalities are responsible for setting their own licensing and zoning policies.
Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said local governments in Las Vegas and Reno are contemplating delays as they decide whether to allow dispensaries in their boundaries and where they can be located. Williams said officials from her division held meetings with local government staffs but the decision is ultimately up to elected officials.
The program will be supported by fees assessed on those who apply. There is an upfront fee of $5,000 for a dispensary to apply, and the license for a dispensary is $30,000. Testing labs will pay $5,000 for a license, and cultivators and producers will pay $3,000.
The committee voted 17-6 to release the money. Opponents were Republicans Hickey and Randall Kirner, both of Reno; James Oscarson of Pahrump; Cresent Hardy of Boulder City; John Ellison of Elko; and John Hambrick of Las Vegas.
The $1.8 million will be used for hiring employees, contracting someone to write the regulations, and other start-up expenses. Williams said she needs to hire seven people now to put the final touches on the regulations and do other preliminary work, and additional employees will be needed in the future to inspect the licensees.