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More study needed on medical pot zoning

Nye County commissioners Tuesday voted 3-2 to continue the heated discussion on zoning medical marijuana establishments until the next Pahrump meeting March 14, amid requests for tougher zoning from drug abuse counselors to more lenient restrictions that may create jobs.

Commissioners Donna Cox and Butch Borasky were opposed. Others had questions about the proposed zoning.

“This is the first time I have ever been asked to vote on anything for a medical treatment. It seems like a thinly-veiled attempt to condone recreational marijuana use. A spade is a spade. I have never been asked to approve any over-the-counter drug, or aspirin or codeine. It should go through the Food and Drug Administration. That’s what they’re there for,” Commissioner Lorinda Wichman said.

Commissioner Frank Carbone said “we’re not advocates of recreational marijuana.”

But he said, “we have folks who need medical marijuana. We have no clear understanding of how many grow houses we’re going to have.”

The new state law allows Nye County only one marijuana dispensary but there’s no limit on the number of grow houses. Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said the county has been approached by a dozen people to build grow houses; he is in favor of allowing the establishments in commercial zones.

Commissioner Butch Borasky said he didn’t have any of the comments from the Nye County Sheriff’s Office, or information he requested on what other communities are doing about zoning medical marijuana.

“We seem to be in a whole big hurry to do things prematurely when we don’t have all the answers,” Borasky said.

Nye County Planning Director Bobby Lewis said medical marijuana establishments would have from April 1 to April 10 to apply for state permits, which first require local approval.

Debra Strickland, a contractor and real estate broker, said she has clients from California and Colorado interested in building a grow house on 27 acres her company owns across from Lakeside Casino. But it’s 984 feet away from Heritage Bible Church and 1,053 feet away from the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom, the ordinance would ban any medical marijuana establishments within 1,500 feet of a church, school or public facility. Strickland said the county ordinance is tougher than state laws when it comes to buffer zones.

“To have a cultivation facility within a 5,000-square-foot building you wouldn’t know it’s there,” Strickland said.

Former Assemblyman Ed Goedhart wanted clarification whether medical marijuana establishments would be allowed outside the Pahrump Regional Planning District.

“That would preclude roughly 17,900 square miles of Nye County from having any type of growing or cultivation facility,” Goedhart said. He said there’s no zoning required in areas outside the Pahrump planning district.

Goedhart added starting Jan. 1, 2016, people needing medical marijuana won’t be able to grow their own marijuana if they’re within 25 miles of a dispensary.

Former Nye County Republican Party Central Committee Chairman Paul Willis said the intent of the law wasn’t to restrict a person’s right to grow marijuana.

“Thanksgiving night I had the Nye County Sheriff’s Office come to my house in the middle of the night sniffing around,” Willis said. “I showed them my card and said I had medical marijuana.”

“Instantly they got the French Connection. They were running around my house getting everybody out of my house in their underwear,” he said.

Nye Cannabis Coalition Director Michael Augustine wanted the establishments allowed in commercial zones.

Ken Hargis said he had a warehouse that would be a perfect location, behind the Nye County Sheriff’s Office. While Strickland said a grow house would require six to eight workers, Hargis said that many employees would be required for each of the three daily shifts.

Dave Richards, vice-president of CivilWise Services, said he’s had clients coming in seeking commercial properties for medical marijuana.

“Putting commercial in this I don’t think should really be a problem because you’re still requiring conditional use permits, which allows you all the reviews and determinations with a conditional use permit, so you still have control. Every application is on its own merits,” Richards said.

Veronica Whitton, a medical marijuana card holder, wanted the commission to strike the ban on a medical marijuana dispensary in the bill, which the Regional Planning Commission had recommended eliminating.

“If we have one here we don’t have the traffic going back and forth, stoned or unstoned, to the medical marijuana dispensaries in Las Vegas,” she said.

But Stacey Smith, executive director of the NyE Communities Coalition, who said she had been a drug and alcohol abuse counselor for 20 years, urged the facilities have at least a one-mile buffer zone.

She said 800 people have medical marijuana cards in the 15 Nevada counties, excluding Clark and Washoe County, which means probably half, maybe 400 to 500 card holders, live in Nye County.

Before the discussion, District Attorney Brian Kunzi took a stand against what he called a nationwide element attacking attorneys doing their job advising local government on medical marijuana, citing the Nevada Rules of Professional Conduct that prohibit counseling on conduct a lawyer knows is criminal. Marijuana is still illegal under the federal Controlled Substance Act, but Kunzi siad he doesn’t know if the sale of marijuana for medical purposes in a transaction taking place in Nye County not crossing state lines is illegal.

“The more important question to me is whether the regulation of medical marijuana should be controlled by politicians in Washington or by the residents of Nye County through their duly elected local representatives. I side with local control of this very important issue and I am prepared to assist in adopting this enacting legislation if such is the desire of this board. If there is gong to be a legal fight with the federal government I do not want you to go into battle with your hands tied behind your backs,” Kunzi said.

Kunzi also thought commissioners should study the matter further.

“We need to put in very, very strong language,” he said.

He suggested violations be grounds for losing a conditional use permit.

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