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County mulls marijuana zoning

Nye County commissioners will consider a bill that would prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries, but allow conditional use permits for cultivation, during the 10 a.m. Tuesday meeting next week.

The Pahrump Regional Planning Commission recommended striking the prohibition on dispensaries.

The cultivation facilities would be permitted as long as they weren’t within 1,500 feet of a school, park, child care facility or church and not within 300 feet of any community facility or residential dwelling. The application for those conditional use permits must include an affidavit from the property owner knowing the proposed use is for a medical marijuana establishment; a site plan showing all the structures; a statement it’s not within the prohibited buffer zones and a business plan.

A copy of the state registration certificate must be provided and regulations under state law must be maintained. Outdoor signage will be limited to one wall sign up to two square feet. No outdoor cultivation is allowed, only in an enclosed building, nor may marijuana be displayed that is visible outside. The establishment must post a sign inside the business that use or distribution of marijuana is a violation of federal law and use for non-medical purposes is a violation of state law; the sign must say consumption on the premises is prohibited and no under 18 is permitted.

The county is trying to dance around the fact medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

A notarized affidavit must be recorded in which the holder of the conditional use permit acknowledges operation of a medical marijuana establishment is a violation of federal law. They must also record an affidavit that holds Nye County harmless against any federal law enforcement actions. Deputy District Attorney Tim Sutton advised the RPC Jan. 15 that standard condition of approval puts permit holders on notice operating a marijuana establishment is still a violation of federal law, despite the passage of newly-enacted Nevada Revised Statute 453A.350.

District Attorney Brian Kunzi said, “the District Attorney’s Association requested an advisory opinion as to whether our assistance could be construed as a violation of our ethical standards that prevent us from assisting a client in the commission of a crime. We have been advised that a preliminary review of our question confirms the potential for a violation. I have advised my attorneys to withdraw from any activities until the issue can be more fully developed. I have not made any final decision on my personal position. I will not have any final position statement until the meeting on Tuesday.”

Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic has had butterflies on the issue, cautioning Las Vegas City Council members about their liability in approving businesses that are still illegal under federal law, though U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in 2009 pledged the federal government won’t prosecute lawyers in states allowing medical marijuana.

In an interview Jerbic told the Las Vegas Review-Journal Monday, “the bottom line is that state law does not invalidate federal law and the only legal advice I can really give at this point is not to do it. Don’t commit a crime.”

Clark County commissioners don’t seem to share those concerns and plans to vote March 5 on its ordinance.

Currently there are no provisions for medical marijuana businesses in Nye County Code. A planning department analysis recommends medical marijuana establishments be located in a light or heavy industrial zone. Nye County would be allowed one dispensary but there is no limit on the number of cultivation facilities. Clark County may have up to 40 dispensaries.

A Pahrump map of the prohibited buffer zones includes the majority of Pahrump Valley, from Hafen Elementary School on Kellogg Road and Hafen Ranch Road in the far southeast to the new Manse Elementary School on Harris Farm Road in the far north. Areas that don’t include buffer zones are primarily around the western ring of Pahrump Valley, southernmost and northernmost Pahrump Valley and areas east of Highway 160 in the mixed industrial-residential areas.

When county commissioners directed staff to draw up the ordinance, Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said he’d like the businesses in an industrial zone, away from main street, with dispensaries that look like pharmacies.

Sheriff Tony DeMeo voiced objections over people “doctor shopping” for medical marijuana. He was concerned over people driving while stoned and was worried the county would be creating another drug problem in addition to prescription drugs and heroin. DeMeo also complained it would create the burden of another privileged license, along with brothels, fireworks and bars.

Debra Strickland, co-owner of Strickland Construction, told the RPC medical marijuana dispensaries will be a little more difficult to run because of a lack of bank funding. She suggested separating dispensaries from cultivation facilities, her husband Larry Strickland, advocated for approving cultivation facilities he hoped to build.

Local resident Tawny Tankersley told the RPC agricultural uses weren’t specified as a permitted use in industrial zones, meaning the cultivation facilities may not be constructed either.

RPC member Bill Dolan said the county may be putting the cart before the horse, as the state is still drawing up regulations on medical marijuana. But Sutton said the county bill could be amended later; he said applicants will have a very limited amount of time to apply for the state licenses and need local approval first.

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