By Brian Bahouth
Reno – Reno Code Enforcement Manager Alex Woodley gave a presentation to the Reno City Council during their April 26 meeting to consider the need for a temporary moratorium on the application, licensing, and operation of recreational marijuana establishments and production facilities.
Nevada voters approved Ballot Question 2 last November by a 54 to 46 percent margin, and in accordance with the initiative, the Nevada Department of Taxation must develop and adopt a set of rules to regulate the cultivation, various production, distribution and retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products to people 21 year of age and older by January 1, 2018.
There are currently four medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the city of Reno, and a bill active in the state Legislature would open them to the general adult public as soon as July 1, if made law. As of now, adults in Nevada can legally possess cannabis but have no place to legally purchase it, except as a member of the state’s medical marijuana program, but if Reno imposed a moratorium, the city’s quartet of dispensaries likely would be not be able to participate in the early start program. In adjacent Sparks, the City Council has decided not to enact a moratorium on recreational licensing.
Municipalities oftentimes enact moratoria to give leaders time to make better informed decisions in fluid situations, and with more than a dozen marijuana bills active in the state Legislature set to end June 5, there are a lot of regulatory matters yet to be sorted out that may affect cities.
In January of this year Carson City enacted a six month moratorium on licensing recreational marijuana businesses to wait and see what the state will enact. The City of Henderson approved a six month moratorium on recreational cannabis businesses in February.
Neoma Jardon represents Reno’s Ward 5 and expressed frustration that the city is flat-footed on the issue of legal cannabis.
“I am having a really hard time with one, the word ‘moratorium’ when the voters have spoken,” Jardon said. “And two, six months, when six months ago I initiated this very item, and I have not had a meeting one on any of these issues.”
Councilman Oscar Delgado represents Reno’s Ward 3 and said he does not support a six month moratorium, though with uncertainty at the Legislature, he does not want to enact regulations they may need to change later.
“I hate us being in a position where we’re emotionally going and making policy and then having to come back a month or two later and make huge amendments, which are going to make people unhappy.”
Reno’s four medical dispensaries have a lot to lose if the city opts out of an early start program with a moratorium, and during public comment Wednesday, Clint Cates with MYNT dispensary, currently operating in downtown Reno, spoke in vigorous opposition.
“We ask this council, put your faith and trust in the current regulatory framework, compliant operators and current business owners, and I promise you, you will never have to ask for it again,” Cates said.
The manager of Blum dispensary, currently operating in Reno, also spoke in opposition.
Jenny Brekhus represents Reno’s Ward 1 and said the council needs to get up to speed on the regulation of cannabis
“I do think we need to get ready to roll out on July 1,” Brekhus said. “I’ve been in three of the dispensaries. I know they are being used. I walk and see people driving in and out of them. I know they have a client base. I think they are good operators who have been very well fleshed out, and they can help us with this big transition to recreational.”
Councilwoman Naomi Duerr represents Reno’s Ward 2 and said she would like the city to open medical dispensaries to the public on July 1, should they be allowed.
“The voters have spoken, and I think that it’s really important for us to incorporate that direction from our voting public. They want to be able to obtain recreational marijuana. We don’t want them to obtain it from black market, we want them to obtain it from a place that meets the criteria, in my mind, that the medical marijuana folks have met,” said Duerr.
David Bobzein is the city’s At-Large councilman and said he supports the early start bill in concept and that opening the city’s medical dispensaries to the general adult public in July could be a useful laboratory for learning how to establish best licensing and zoning requirements for recreational marijuana businesses.
“I think we all understand that recreational is here. It passed. It’s going to happen. We all understand that recreational marijuana is going to sold in Reno. It’s just a matter of how,” Bobzein said.
Councilwoman Brekhus corralled thinking from the debate and gave guidance to city staff.
“Come back on May 10th with a framework for us for early start for the dispensaries and other MMEs (Medical Marijuana Establishments),” Brekhaus said to city staff members. Brekhus also instructed staff to work with regional partners to glean and share information, develop a public education component for marijuana, and continue to participate in the state rulemaking process.
The Reno City Council took no action on a moratorium Wednesday. Council is expected to continue discussion of a moratorium in June or July. According to Ballot Question 2, Reno would be granted 20 recreational retail licenses. The number and nature of licenses the city will issue is a matter of future debate.