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July 25, 2014

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Las Vegas puts moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries

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Andrew Doughman

Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore inspects the product and learns about the different uses for and varieties of marijuana during a trip to a dispensary in Arizona on Friday, March 22, 2013.

Entrepreneurs hoping to break into the medical marijuana business in Las Vegas will have to wait after the City Council today passed a six-month moratorium on pot-related businesses until the state has issued regulations.

The issue: The City Council debated whether to impose a moratorium on applications, permits and licenses for medical marijuana-based businesses.

The vote: Approved unanimously 7-0.

What it means: The city will have six months to figure out what it wants the medical marijuana industry in Las Vegas to look like.

Dispensaries and other medical marijuana-related businesses were authorized in a bill passed by the Legislature, but the state Division of Health is still working to formalize regulations for the industry.

Although the state will set broad guidelines, municipalities are responsible for setting their own licensing and zoning policies, giving them wiggle room to influence where and how the businesses operate.

No sales of marijuana can happen until the law takes effect April 1, but city staff warned that if prospective business owners applied before the rules are in place, it could potentially create a complicated legal problem.

“On one end, you have the state of Nevada that has voted for medical marijuana. It’s in the constitution, the state legislature passed it, the governor signed it and now it’s in our lap,” Councilman Stavros Anthony said.

“You still have to understand that under federal law, marijuana is a scheduled 1 controlled substance...It’s considered a dangerous drug under federal law that you can go to prison for.”

The moratorium affects land use, business licensing and building permit applications for medical marijuana establishments until March, effectively preventing any from opening before then. The council will also have the option to vote to extend the moratorium another six months.

City Council members said they wanted to take their time crafting regulations to avoid problems experienced in other states where marijuana dispensaries have proliferated.

“We are not saying yes or no to marijuana,” Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian said. “We’re saying we need to have those (state) guidelines in order to do this appropriately and not end up in the type of mess some other states have found themselves in.”

The moratorium has drawn steady opposition across several public meetings from entrepreneurs, attorneys and other marijuana activists who see the city as dragging its feet.

In a somewhat unusual move, Mayor Carolyn Goodman chose not to hold public comment on the item today, preventing a group of people who had been waiting three hours from speaking.

Goodman reasoned, and city legal staff agreed, that public comment occurred during a committee meeting where the bill was heard on Sept. 3. Many of the people wishing to comment today spoke at the previous meeting.

Goodman allowed one person, an out-of-state marijuana policy consultant who offered to help the city develop its regulations, to speak for three minutes.

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