Horace Langford Jr. / Pahrump Valley Times - County commissioner Frank Carbone (center) struggles with the vote on medical marijuana licensing issues while seated between Commissioner Dan Schinhofen, at left, and Donna Cox, at right, during Tuesday’s meeting.
A bill zoning medical marijuana establishments in the Pahrump Regional Planning District, but banning a dispensary, was passed by a 4-1 vote of county commissioners Tuesday.
The board returned from lunch and passed the motion by Commissioner Lorinda Wichman, including a request by Commissioner Frank Carbone to exclude dispensaries, but the bill only applies to Pahrump. One medical marijuana dispensary can be located outside town that Nye County is allowed by state law. An unlimited number of grow houses can be set up in the county, including Pahrump, which will now be regulated within the PRPD.
In the morning session, Commissioner Dan Schinhofen vacated his chairman seat and was unable to get a second on his motion to enact zoning for medical marijuana establishments using state regulations, allowing a dispensary in Pahrump. District Attorney Brian Kunzi said inaction would leave dispensaries and grow houses able to locate in the county anyway under state regulations.
The alternative selected by Schinhofen would allow medical marijuana establishments — including testing labs, cultivation facilities, production of edible marijuana and a dispensary — within the general commercial as well as light and heavy industrial zones. It would only require the establishments to be 1,000 feet from a school, or 300 feet from a day care, park, playground, swimming pool or church under state law. The county proposed tighter county regulations, with at least a 1,500-foot distance from parks, churches, schools or child care facilities and 300 feet from any residences.
Commissioner Butch Borasky voted against the bills.
“It’s a dark day in Nye County’s history when we get into the drug business to go along with the sex business,” he said.
Al Brody, who said he planned to come before county commissioners soon for a conditional use permit for a marijuana cultivation facility, wanted the county to permit them in general commercial zones.
“I’ve searched the Pahrump Valley looking for locations that were either light or heavy industrial and I find it very difficult to find suitability under those codes,” he said.
Stacy Smith, executive director of the NyE Communities Coalition, said it’s still unknown how medical marijuana establishments will affect the community. If the county insists on zoning medical marijuana, she wanted at least a one-mile buffer and no establishments permitted in general commercial zones.
“It is in the best interest of our community that we do not allow any medical marijuana, dispensaries, grow houses, production facilities or testing facilities in Nye County. Allow the time for the state and federal government to resolve the legal, ethical, medical and financial issues that will impact our community,” Smith said in a letter read by Lloyd Platson.
But Kunzi called it “fool’s gold” to assume not passing an ordinance would make medical marijuana establishments go away.
“The way the statute is written, the state controls how many dispensaries, how many cultivation facilities are permitted. They’re the ones who issue the licenses, they’re the ones who grant the registration to operate these facilities. The only thing the statute says is if the county has zoning restrictions placed on them then they have to comply with those zoning restrictions before they’re granted an application for a license from the state. That’s why I say it’s fool’s gold to suggest it’s up to the county, if you don’t put any restrictions in, I’m afraid you’ll be at the mercy of the state,” Kunzi said.
While state law limits medical marijuana establishments to general commercial or industrial zones, Kunzi said only the Pahrump Regional Planning District has zoning, everything outside it is multi-use, which means industrial and commercial uses are allowed anywhere outside the PRPD.
Kunzi said eliminating a dispensary could eliminate grow houses too.
“The number of cultivation facilities you have are dependent on what the state determines are the needs of your dispensary. That’s why we get into this Catch-22. If you decide not to have any dispensaries, the state could decide your need is zero, therefore there are no cultivation facilities,” the DA said.
“Arguably you could have a cultivation facility and no dispensaries here,” Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas said, disagreeing with the DA. He is also an attorney representing an applicant for a medical marijuana license.“The cultivator may be growing for other counties and other cities.”
Horne said “doing nothing may do you more harm than good.”
He added a memo from the U.S. Department of Justice that stated the federal government will place a low priority on enforcing marijuana laws in jurisdictions that want medical marijuana. Horne said if the county is overly restrictive with the regulations, they may be opening themselves up to a lawsuit if a license holder can’t comply with a county ordinance while they’re complying with state law.
In a separate licensing bill, at Schinhofen’s suggestion, commissioners voted to reduce a proposed 15-percent tax on marijuana sold, distributed or produced in the county to 10 percent and a $50,000 annual licensing fee for medical marijuana establishments was reduced to $30,000.
“God doesn’t ask for more than 15 percent, I don’t know why we’re asking for 15. I would like to see it lowered,” he said.
Commissioner Donna Cox didn’t want to drive up the price for patients by levying high taxes.
“We need to keep in mind we’re not approving medical marijuana for everybody here to run and use; it’s a form of medication,” she said.
Wichman made the motion on the licensing bill, which incorporated the DA’s suggestion to require applicants to get a conditional use permit. Kunzi noted violations for illegal drug sales include a fine from $500 to $1,000 or six months in jail, revocation of the license and forfeiture of property.
Horne said some strains of marijuana for medical use don’t even contain the ingredient THC that gets people high, like strains used in treatment for a little girl’s seizures called Charlotte’s Web publicized in a series on CNN. He said only medical marijuana card holders and employees would be permitted in the establishment.
Michael McAuliffe, who has lobbied on the medical marijuana issue in the Legislature, said, “We’re not talking about Yucca Mountain. We’re talking about a substance that is non-toxic.”
McAuliffe said the state acted to enact medical marijuana legislation because Congress is in gridlock. He said marijuana establishments won’t be operational until Oct. 1, the state Legislature could tweak the state medical marijuana law five months later in the 2015 session.