By Brian Bahouth
Reno – West Wendover, Nevada is on the border with Utah, on the edge of the Great Salt Flat and roughly 100 miles from Salt Lake City, and for a medical marijuana patient, West Wendover is a barren desert island with the nearest legal dispensary a long day’s drive away in either Reno or Las Vegas, but as Nevada lawmakers and regulators continue to draft the regulations for adult use marijuana businesses in Nevada, the Mayor of West Wendover has been working with state officials and his City Council in an effort to bring medical and possibly adult use cannabis to West Wendover. Daniel Corona is Mayor of West Wendover and said legitimate medical marijuana patients currently have no reasonable access.
“The simple answer, there isn’t any access currently for any medical patients in the West Wendover area. Currently a medical card holder has to drive either to Reno or Las Vegas, both of which are over 350 miles away to be able to purchase medical marijuana. It’s quite a big hoop for folks with medical marijuana cards to jump through in this area to try to get their medicine,” Corona explained.
West Wendover is in Elko County where there’s been a moratorium on medical marijuana businesses in unincorporated parts of the county since 2015, and according to Mayor Corona, the Elko County Board of Commissioners’ aversion to any form of legal cannabis is the reason why there are no medical marijuana businesses in West Wendover.
“When the whole medical marijuana came about, Elko County was given a medical license, the County Commissioners decided not to do anything with that medical license. And because of it the Department of Taxation took that license and moved it down south, and so now there’s no avenue for cities to request a license if they wanted one. They would have to go through the counties. And currently Elko County sees no interest in requesting a medical marijuana license,” Corona said.
Two bills now active in the Nevada state Legislature, SB 487 and SB 329, contain language that would allow cities like West Wendover to “request the registration of additional medical marijuana dispensaries within the jurisdiction of the local government,” without going through the host county. Mayor Corona said he has been working with Nevada state Senator Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) on the provision, and according to Mayor Corona, should the state grant West Wendover the authority to issue a medical marijuana business license, the City Council is more likely than ever to approve it.
“Some of the people that we’ve heard from are actually pretty surprising. They’re not people that you would think are using medical marijuana and that actually need it for pain or anxiety or the other symptoms that it helps treat,” Corona said. “It’s been nice to be able to have a lot of public support and a lot of those marijuana card holders to reach out the council members and really express the need.”
Last November, Nevada voters approved a ballot initiative that legalizes the adult use and possession of marijuana and further instructs the Nevada Department of Taxation to develop and implement a set of rules to regulate all variety of marijuana businesses from cultivators to processors and retailers by January 1, 2018, and under the provisions of Ballot Question 2, Elko County has a population of roughly 52,000 people and would be entitled to two adult use marijuana business licenses.
“I am a strong supporter of adult use dispensaries and just opening up recreationally, however I am not 100 percent sure that we have full council support yet,” Mayor Corona said. “It seems like tides are kind of turning. Our voters did vote yes on Question 2. We are the only city in Elko County where our voters actually voted yes. The rest of Elko County completely turned it down.”
So far, the Elko County Board of Commissioners has not moved to block the issuance of adult use marijuana licenses nor have they adopted any form of cannabis business regulations, but despite the county’s ambivalence, Daniel Corona is confident either SB 487 or SB 329 will enable medical marijuana to come to West Wendover.
“It seems like more and more each day that hope gets bigger and stronger, and I think that medical marijuana is coming to West Wendover, it’s just a matter of how quickly we can get the ordinance passed and the following resolution that would specify for medical dispensaries and then also our license from the state. I think the chances of it happening are very very likely.”
When asked about the potential for tax revenue, Mayor Corona wouldn’t venture a guess and said his primary focus is not on money.
“I don’t like looking at it from the monetary side because we really don’t know how big of an impact it would have on our budget, which I mean, if you look at other states where this has already happened, it has had a huge impact on local government budget, but what I like to focus on is that it is more regulated and it makes it a lot harder to get in the hands of our children,” said Corona.
Under the provisions of Ballot Question 2, if an adult in Nevada lives farther than 25 miles from a dispensary, they can legally grow up to 6 plants, with a limit of 12 plants per household, so to prohibit taxed and regulated cannabis businesses is to endorse unregulated and untaxed home cultivation.
“If anyone is able to just grow, you know, any household could grow 12 plants, that’s a lot of marijuana in a town of 5,000 that could end up on the street,” Corona said. “That could end up in our children’s hands, so that’s what I like to focus on. I think the monetary part will be an added benefit, but it’s kind of hard to know exactly what it would be, so for me, I don’t like focusing on that.”
Mayor Corona added that cannabis is a particularly valuable crop that could, if inadequately protected, inspire crime.
“If there’s that many plants in one household, the street value is upwards of $1,500 dollars a plant, that’s a lot of money someone would have, not actual cash but potential money someone has laying in their house, so that opens up the door to burglaries, more crime, and so I think this (allowing dispensaries to operate) would kind of hopefully prevent some of that.”
But cities require money to operate, and Mayor Corona said he and other mayors are watching the progress and details of legislation active this session to ensure cities get their fair share of marijuana tax revenue, the details of which are yet to be finalized, though Corona acknowledges there is an end point to marijuana taxes.
“And that’s where some of the fear with the counties now wanting a piece of the tax,” Corona said. “If everyone gets a piece of the tax, there’s not going to be enough of the tax to go around, or we’re going to tax ourselves out of the market, and that’s just going to allow the illegal market to flourish.”
Several of Nevada’s current cannabis business license holders have inquired about doing business in West Wendover, and yes, a dispensary or two could spell a big jump in already robust tourist numbers. Daniel Corona pointed out that West Wendover is closer to Salt Lake than Colorado and that some 290,000 people already visit the region every month.
“If we are able to offer one more, for lack of a better word, ‘sin’ that the folks in the Salt Lake Valley can come out to West Wendover and partake in … that number could even double or triple.”