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Jim Hartman: Nevada rushing into recreational marijuana use

Nevada’s school system has the lowest scores nationally and is ranked last in education by Education Week in 2017, while Massachusetts schools are rated best of all the states.

Last November, both Nevada and Massachusetts voters passed marijuana industry-written initiatives legalizing commercial pot. In both states, a one-year period was provided for state government to develop their recreational marijuana program, including drafting comprehensive regulations.

In the name of educational funding, Nevada politicians and the marijuana industry last December entered into an unholy alliance to heedlessly rush the process.

An “Early Start” program was conceived by political insiders to advance the “first sale” date to July 1, 2017.

This “Early Start” program was never the subject of any public hearings, state legislative approval or Nevada Tax Commission action prior to the announcement.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed a 10 percent retail sales tax on recreational marijuana for education. His rosy two-year forecast of $60 million in revenue runs counter to initial experiences in Colorado (revenue one-third of forecast) and Alaska (one-fifth of forecast). Our new state motto: “Light one up for the kids”.

In dramatic contrast, the Massachusetts State Legislature, citing the myriad complexities of legalization, including fundamental conflict with federal law, passed legislation last December, signed by Gov. Charlie Baker, extending their “first sale” deadline to 18 months.

Massachusetts will have sales begin July 1, 2018 – a full year after the Nevada start date.

Massachusetts legislators were not impressed with the new money for education argument and vowed to get it right on prudent implementation.

The “Early Start” program beginning July 1 is without adequate preparation. Nevada has hired only four new employees to run a complicated “seed to sale” recreational marijuana program that required Colorado to add more than 50 additional employees in 2014.

On June 20, “Early Start” was thrown into legal turmoil by the granting of a preliminary injunction by Carson City District Judge James Wilson against the Nevada Tax Commission. The commission was enjoined from licensing any retail marijuana distribution other than by wholesale alcohol distributors.

The judge found the tax commission to have adopted invalid temporary regulations and having engaged in improper “ad hoc rulemaking” in his findings for the Independent alcohol distributors of Nevada.

Both Colorado and Nevada governors appointed a task force on implementation of the marijuana initiatives passed in their states. Due to delay in appointment of members by Sandoval, the Nevada Task Force report was not completed until May 30, only one month before July 1 “Early Start.”

In contrast, Colorado had their task force report finished 9 ½ months prior to “first sale” on Jan. 1, 2014.

Nevada’s attempted linking of educational funding to legalized recreational marijuana use seems a strange anomaly. Because of the uncertainties, the Legislature’s last-minute decision to apply retail marijuana taxes to a “rainy day” account rather than to education was wise.

As Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong cautioned: “We’re coming in too fast, too high, too hard, and we don’t really know what we’re doing.” Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and California followed a one-year policy on “first sale.”

Nevada stands alone in its wild ride to “Early Start.”

Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa, Nevada.

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