By Brian Bahouth
The Washoe County Board of Commissioners is made up of four Republicans and one Democrat, Kitty Jung. Jung has been on the board since 2007 and is known for her environmental awareness, attention to issues of economic justice and more than any other Washoe County Commissioner, her understanding of medical and adult use cannabis regulation.
Kitty Jung spoke with Brian Bahouth … listen to this audio interview … 14:14 …
Nevada voters approved the state’s medical marijuana program in 2000, and when the time came to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in 2014, Commissioner Jung sponsored and championed the bill that implemented the codes and ordinances to accommodate medical cannabis businesses in the county.
Washoe County was the first municipality in Nevada to adopt medical cannabis regulations, and Commissioner Jung is proud of her pioneering regulatory work. Jung views the regulation of cannabis as a public health issue and says she has a Libertarian stripe regarding the legalization of marijuana and other substances.
“Criminalizing substances in which many people are using as their own self-medication is so wrong-headed and such a waste of taxpayer dollars and peoples’ lives, and I really believe that all substances, I’m very Libertarian when it comes to that, should be regulated and decriminalized and helped out of the need to inject heroin, and to make sure that they don’t needlessly O.D. or create lots of crime to get their medication,” Jung said.
Commissioner Jung recalled a formative internship that helped her get beyond the stereotypical definitions of marijuana in popular culture. Jung worked with a professor on a NASA funded study regarding the use of marijuana to combat nausea in astronauts. She said the study showed cannabis does indeed relieve nausea, but was never used on astronauts because it also alters depth perception. Jung said the experience demystified marijuana.
“Marijuana is far less damaging to society and to health than alcohol or tobacco products,” Jung said. “So as a public policy matter, it is one of my least concerns frankly, but what concerns me the most are the mandatory minimums .”
For Jung, the notion of criminalizing the activity of self-medication is bad public policy.
“For whatever reason people imbibe, everybody imbibes something, shopping addiction, sex addiction, internet addiction. Everyone’s an addict. Everyone had a traumatic experience at least once in their childhood or adulthood, no matter how perfect your parents were or your situations, and I think we do better to publicly fund mental health and the treatment of that, than chasing after petty criminals.”
The Washoe County Board of Commissioners
When negotiating where medical marijuana dispensaries would be located, according to Commissioner Jung other commissioners gave in to constituents who did not want a medical marijuana dispensary in their districts. There is now one dispensary in Incline Village near Lake Tahoe in the District of Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler, and there are two discreet, newly renovated dispensaries on either side of Sun Valley Boulevard in Kitty Jung’s district, Kanna and Reef.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” Jung said. “My district, nobody complained at all, but here’s the deal. I want to build a wall around those monies and funds, the property tax, the sales tax, and any excise tax, that’s staying in my community, my district. We’re not throwing that in the General Fund.”
Commissioner Jung described a manufactured hysteria about legal cannabis in some communities and explained that it has taken time for her colleagues on the County Commission to learn about marijuana.
“Some of my commissioners needed to be educated,” Jung said. “They were ignorant, but not in the negative sense of the term, but they just didn’t understand. It was VooDoo to them almost. But now, I mean, it’s funny because when this all first started happening, I think a lot of us were giggling and making jokes to just get ok with it, and I would say definitely now, they’re educated. Now some of them will fight for their constituents to not have a dispensary in their area, but we overruled them, and I have the votes for that because everybody should share the wealth, and I do mean wealth.”
And though Jung sees economic opportunity for the community and the county government in marijuana, she is circumspect when it comes to marijuana taxation and that cannabis tax is not a bottomless well.
“We know there’s a sweet spot right. Colorado definitely demonstrated that for us … because if we make it so expensive only the elite can afford it, we’re going back to the streets.”
But given the right amount of tax, what economic impact will legal cannabis have on the region.
“It (marijuana) has a tremendous economic impact. And we’re not just talking about taxes and fees. There is such a down chain for that. People who provide the pesticides and herbicides needed for the grow … the people that supply the containers to put the product in. It’s so large, it’s difficult to get your arms around it.”
The ultra-secure facility and bonding requirements to open a dispensary or grow or processing facility in Nevada are considerable and prohibitive for a mom and pop or “boutique” marijuana business, so we asked Commissioner Jung if she thinks there is an immediate future for small, artisan cannabis businesses in northern Nevada.
“No, And you know why, because it’s regulated. I really see it being taken over by big pharma or the liquor industry.
“Not for a while. And I think that’s better to be a little more cautious. Again, we’re building the trust and the culture of people who are not acculturated to this.
Following the passage of Ballot Question 2 last November, the Nevada Department of Taxation has until January 1, 2018 to implement final regulations for the licensing and taxation of adult use marijuana businesses of all variety, but during this period when it is legal for an adult in Nevada to possess and use marijuana yet there is no place for them to legally purchase cannabis unless they’re a medical marijuana patient; so the Department of Taxation has adopted temporary regulations that would enable the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries to apply and open to the general adult public on July 1 in an effort to head off the formation of illegal markets and to collect tax. A district judge has put a hold on the launch of early start, but the state has requested the injunction be lifted and early start to proceed. However the court battle shakes out, Commissioner Jung says the dispensaries in her district are ready for early start.
“I’m sure that the people who are ready to pull the trigger on July 1 have some distinctions on how they’re going to handle it. I still think it’s going to be quiet. I’m sure you’ve been in a dispensary, it’s quiet, it’s clean … it’s almost like a doctor’s office, so I’m sure it’s not going to be rambunctious and ridiculous for the time being.”
With time, the legal marijuana markets in Colorado and Washington state have matured and steadily grown, and cannabis has become a much more widely available and normalized substance in those states, so when asked to look five or ten years down the road in Nevada and describe the place of cannabis in northern Nevada, Commissioner Jung said marijuana will be as widely available as any legal substance.
“It’ll be nothing. It’ll be at every liquor store, every Seven-Eleven. It will be grownups doing grownup things when they choose to alter their state of consciousness … human beings are compelled to alter their consciousness. There is even argument that there is a gene in you for that … I think that the more that we become educated and a little more humanitarian than militant, you will see more Progressive laws, behaviors, and democracy than in the past. It’s just evolution.”