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State following national trend of medical pot leading to litigation

From the news coming out of Washoe County, you’d almost think there’s a glaucoma epidemic erupting at Lake Tahoe’s Incline Village.

Not one, but three licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries have been issued to companies with plans to open pot shops at Incline and nearby Crystal Bay. Incline Village has just 8,000 permanent residents, but of course this isn’t really about them.

The area bustles with visitors during ski season and vacationers seeking to beat the heat in summer. Lake Tahoe’s South Shore casinos are just a few miles away. The region draws more than 4 million visitors a year.

As you might imagine, reasonable minds are again left to wonder whether county officials are following the intent and spirit of the state law, which at least officially was passed in an effort to give patients access to the product for medicinal purposes. Pain relief after surgery, help with nausea related to chemotherapy, that sort of thing. Not to provide party favors for Tahoe’s tourist throngs.

Although even writing those words seems naive given the growing national interest in legalization of marijuana for recreational use, the law is still the law. And it’s not being followed, according to a lawsuit filed by attorneys for Washoe Dispensary LLC, which as you might have guessed was snubbed during the licensing process.

In its court filing, Washoe Dispensary argues that the state’s ranking system is flawed and, contrary to the intent of its authors, the law doesn’t prevent one company from dominating the market. For its part, unlicensed Washoe Dispensary claims a licensed rival, Tryke Companies Reno LLC, shouldn’t have been awarded two licenses. It also raises the issue of appropriate location now that Washoe has three of its five unincorporated county tagged for the Incline area.

In a recent interview on KNPR’s State of Nevada, an attorney for Washoe Dispensary, Ardea Canepa, said the state has failed to follow its own law, and the upcoming session of the Legislature might help provide a remedy. The Legislature, however, could also turn into a battleground as Democrats and Republicans weigh the political advantages of helping to promote the issue.

Although Nevada is known for its libertarian heritage, it’s generally perceived the marijuana issue plays to the political advantage of Democrats over Republicans. Having a marijuana question on the 2016 ballot, for instance, could energize voters otherwise unexcited about turning out at the polls.

Who knows, maybe pot has become so accepted that it transcends personal politics. But I seriously doubt it.

Promoters of medical marijuana in Nevada have often touted the economic benefits of legalization and have predicted secondary businesses would also grow. But I don’t recall any of them saying prescription pot would be a boon for attorneys. It appears to becoming just that with active lawsuits in Washoe and Clark counties and, I hear, other litigation under consideration by snubbed limited liability companies that poured substantial resources into the application process.

Nevada’s experience appears to follow a national trend: medical marijuana legalization leads to litigation. With so much potential profit on the line, maybe the court battles were inevitable.

They’ve certainly occurred across the nation. One example: Since 2012, a stack of lawsuits have been filed in Arizona by companies and individuals. The state’s Department of Health Services is scheduled to begin accepting dispensary applications this year. Growers who jumped the gun have paid the price. Organizations intent on expanding the definition of medical need are jousting, too.

From jilted prospective licensees to disgruntled patients, pot politics is littered with litigation. Nevada’s cannabis crowd has just begun to fight.

And all this time I thought marijuana was supposed to mellow out its users.

John L. Smith is a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. E-mail him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.

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