By Brian Bahouth
Reno – Just before midnight on Jun 30, two lines of smiling, well-behaved people snaked around two sides of the Blum marijuana dispensary on Virginia Street in Reno. Friday night traffic was heavier and slower than usual. Motorists rubber-necked and tooted their horns as they passed. Blum is one of four medical marijuana dispensaries in Reno licensed by the state and the city to open to those 21 years of age and older on July 1. The Nevada Department of Taxation licensed 39 medical dispensaries to open under the “early start” program in Clark County, one in Nye County in Pahrump, and the mood outside Blum in Reno at ten minutes to twelve a.m. on June 30 was festive.
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Nevada voters approved Ballot Question 2 last November by a 54 to 46 percent margin, and according to the initiative, the Nevada Department of Taxation must develop and adopt a final set of regulations to govern the cultivation, various production, distribution and retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products by January 1, 2018. But since January 1 of this year, adults in Nevada can legally possess and use limited amounts of cannabis but have no place to legally purchase it, except as a member of the state’s medical marijuana program, so the Nevada Tax Commission adopted temporary regulations, which allow qualified Nevada medical marijuana dispensaries, with local governmental approval, to open to the general adult public on July 1 as a way of heading off illegal markets and gleaning needed tax revenue.
Jerry Martinez works for the O.penVAPE cannabis company in Nevada and stood next to a distinctly green vehicle wrapped in the O.penVAPE logo.
“I’ve been in this industry for years and now that I’m here and actually making … I have a job at this, and now that it’s actually taking fruition, and I see all these people … it feels like a dream come true,” Martinez said. “I don’t think this will hit me until two or three days from now, honestly because man we’ve been working hard and long hours for little pay because the industry was just so small with the medical market here in Nevada that some of these businesses were tanking … some were in the red … everyone was worried the rec market wasn’t going to pull through to keep them alive, you know what I’m saying.”
The number of medical marijuana patients in Nevada has steadily grown and is greater than 30,000, but for Martinez, opening the medical dispensaries to the general adult public may have saved several businesses.
“Licenses are expensive,” Martinez said with emphasis. “You’ve got to pay your employees … revenue is really low with just medical patients … like 3,000 of them in Washoe County, so if they all compete … there are so many dispensaries all competing for the patients … it’s like an elephant in a room, a really small room, no pun intended or anything, but it wants to break out … it wants to … it’s breaking the windows … it’s wrecking the furniture and everything.
“As we see tonight there are two lines wrapping around the building, and this is just the first night at twelve a.m..” Martinez said. “The market is going to fold, we think, four times over, so we’re ecstatic. That’s why we’re here. We’re celebrating … we’re having a good time. We’re not buying anything, but we’re just here to have a great time.”
A man who did not wish to be identified said he came out for Blum’s midnight opening to show his support for both medical and adult use legality.
“I’ve been smoking since I was 15. My dad actually first got me able to be able to smoke. He convinced my mom to let me smoke as a medical reason because I broke my leg. I had Compartment Syndrome in the bottom half of my leg, and I had severe nerve damage, which caused a lot of pain, so it helped with the pain aspect.
“Since then I’ve been smoking every day since. I wake up in the morning. I smoke. I go to work. I work fine. I take my lunch break. I get an hour lunch. I’ll go home. I’ll make a sandwich, smoke, and go to work. I function perfectly fine.”
The man said even though marijuana and alcohol are now being similarly regulated the substances are not at all alike.
“I smoke a blunt, I’m out working better and faster than all the other guys, why, because I’m not in pain. I’m not hurting. I feel good.”
A man who identified himself as Matt emerged from the dispensary holding a white child-proof bag and smiling. When asked about the importance of the evening, he gave an emphatic response.
“The federal government really doesn’t have any right telling any man what he does and does not put in his body, what they can and cannot put in their body. Plain and simple,” Matt said.
I asked if legal marijuana was something of a state’s rights issue for him.
“I’m from Arizona. I’m a medical patient in Arizona and I’m up here seeing my ex-wife and my daughter, and they told me it was being legalized today … I just came to see and everything … it’s cool … it’s the way it should be though. Needs to be that way the entire country over. It needs to be federally decriminalized, so they’re not putting good people in prison for no reason anymore.”
Another man stepped from the dispensary holding a child-proof bag and he, like many who offered comment had a desire to see the federal prohibition of marijuana end.
“It is an historic moment for freedom and liberty,” he said. “These people are out here celebrating the fact that they are legally allowed to now purchase something … the government is not telling them they can’t do it anymore, so it’s just cool.”
He said he is a medical marijuana patient in Nevada and added that adult use legality brought a much desired change in the way state marijuana purchase records are kept.
“So the coolest aspect in this for me in this is that the government no longer is doing tracking on individuals for what they’re purchasing. That’s another point for me on like personal liberty and things like that and freedom because who wants the government really all in their business on what they got and how much they have.”
An adult in Nevada can purchase as much alcohol as they want whenever they want, but the purchase of cannabis is restricted in all regards by contrast, and the Reno resident noted the difference in public access to marijuana and alcohol as a troubling bias, though in light of his recent purchase, the man said Nevada was a big step closer to normalizing cannabis.
“I think it’s just cool … it’s a step for freedom. We need to end federal legalization and end prohibition there, but it’s a step.
“But everybody knows people that are sick … there’s always somebody that you know, even if you don’t use it personally, like you know somebody that’s using it … that’s what’s going to get the acceptance, just breaking down the stigmas against it … normalizing it, and this is a major step towards normalizing it.”
The line moved slowly, yet the crowd of hundreds was seemingly patient and in good spirits. A man wearing a San Francisco Forty-Niner’s ball cap stood nearby and watched and noted the good vibe.
“Looks like pot smokers in a line to me … honestly … pot smokers in a line are friggin’ peaceful … there aren’t gonna be no like riots or nothing …”
Most did not want to make a comment for the record, and many said they feared for their jobs, but 19 year old Sydney Peterson was sitting cross-legged on the trunk of a car and taking in the scene with friends and family.
“I was one of the many people of the new generation that voted yes to Prop. 2,” she said. “I legally cannot smoke for another year and a half. I do qualify for medical though, and I have been smoking weed since I was very young, since I was like seven years old. I have a lot of mental and physical issues, and weed has been my number one medication. I went from like seven different psych pills to one every day, every morning for the last two years because of marijuana.
“It has helped with everything. I’ve been working at Dunkin’ Donuts for about a year and a half. Got a promotion. Had a back injury last year. Did not want to take my pain meds, did nothing but smoke weed, and my back got better. Did their exercises. My back got better. Every day I function because of marijuana. I don’t see it as a gateway drug. I don’t see it as a second-hand help. It is nothing but my medication that helps me live every day as a normal person.”
But looking at the long line of people waiting to purchase marijuana, a medical cannabis patient in northern Nevada would have to be concerned that the price and availability of medicine will be on the rise in days to come, and Jerry Martinez of O.penVAPE said demand may exceed supply in the short term.
“The demand is not going to be met by the supply, to be honest with you just because some of the cultivations in northern Nevada are so small. But once the market starts maturing, people start making money, especially after full rec., they are obviously going to invest more money and have bigger grows and have way bigger operations, as opposed to what’s going on right now in northern Nevada.
“As time goes on, I think everyone is going to start easing into it and start producing to the needs of the demand, and I think prices will eventually be driven down because of that free market, I believe.”