By Brian Bahouth
Reno – 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 set of rules to regulate the cultivation, various production, distribution and retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products to people 21 years of age and older by January 1, 2018. But since January 1 of this year, adults in Nevada can legally possess and use 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 “early start” regulations, which will allow qualified Nevada medical marijuana dispensaries, with local governmental approval, to open to the general adult public on July 1.
All four of Reno’s medical marijuana dispensaries applied for a license to open under the early start provisions, and on June 14 the Reno City Council, after months of deliberation, approved all four licenses. The rationale for the early start program is in part to help prevent the formation of illegal cannabis markets and glean much needed tax revenue while final regulations are completed, but Reno City Council Member Jenny Brekhus (Ward 1) says the city has a good opportunity to learn about the regulation of adult use cannabis in Reno from limited, early start marijuana sales.
Reno City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus spoke with Brian Bahouth … listen to this audio feature …
Over time the City of Reno has enacted limits on the issuance of package liquor licenses due to the secondary effects on communities. The number and location of pawn shops has also been limited in Reno, but Councilmember Brekhus said those restrictions were applied after the fact. Adult use marijuana will be different.
“We’re going to license them into this next phase, and then we’ll have a decision-making process and see how they do and if we want to take advantage of more to go and serve this market, so it’s a very interesting, controlled approach from the zoning, land use, and regulation framework that I am comfortable with. I think it really offers the best of all possibilities on how to roll out something this new into your community,” Brekhus said.
In other states where adult use cannabis is legal, zoning regulations have in some cases caused undue concentrations of marijuana businesses in undesirable locations. Voter approved Ballot Question 2 mandates that no marijuana establishment can be within 1,000 feet of a public or private K-12 school or 300 feet of a “community facility.” Councilmember Brekhus is known for her knowledge of zoning and said Reno has taken a different approach.
“That theory comes out of typically sexually oriented businesses, and a lot of times they call them LULUs also Locally Undesirable Land Uses,”s aid Brekhus. “And a lot of times you want them out of sight … family friendly ventures out of areas where you’re trying to get investments downtown, but we didn’t go that approach, and I’m very pleased that of the four, and we only have four, two have filled out very obsolete, hard to fill buildings. One filled out an old video store. Who is back filling video stores, and it’s been great. It’s in my Ward as a matter of fact.”
The initiative language also limits the number of marijuana store licenses the Nevada Department of Taxation can issue based on county population. In Clark County where the population is greater than 700,000, the state can issue as many as 80 retail marijuana store licenses, and the Clark County Commission recently approved all 25 of the medical marijuana dispensaries to apply to participate in the early start program. In Washoe County and Reno where the respective populations are greater than 100,000 but less than 700,000, the state could issue up to 20 retail marijuana store licenses. For Councilmember Brekhus, the city has the ability to prevent the over concentration of marijuana businesses, should they decide to license more marijuana retail outlets, beyond the existing four.
“If anything, we might find that they’re too centralized and we may need to expand them into suburban areas, and we have the authority to do that under the way the state has allocated the licenses to geographically pick where they’re going to go, if we go with new ones, after this trial period,” Brekhus said.
I asked Councilmember Brekhus if marijuana will one day be as widely available as liquor or tobacco in Reno.
“You know, I honestly don’t know. I do think we’re embarking on a social experiment. I have not traveled a lot in the last several years to see the impacts of other communities and their experiences with widespread use … I’ve just heard stories, and at some point I need to see for my own and make up my own thoughts. And then it’s hard to isolate what you’re seeing in communities from wide spread marijuana use or any consumption, so I just don’t know if it’s going to be like you buy liquor in the grocery stores.”
The Reno City Police have been important stakeholders in helping the state form retail marijuana regulations in Nevada, and Councilmember Brekhus says impaired driving is a central concern, but according to Brekhus Reno has a shortage of police officers. In the United States, the larger the city population the more police officers per resident, but according to 2015 FBI data, Reno has 12.3 officers per 10,000 residents, which is a ratio closer to cities much smaller in size. Brekhus is concerned about a lack of traffic enforcement.
“Have you gotten a ticket at any point in time? Do you know anybody who has gotten a speeding ticket? I mean we have so much speeding, but then add on the marijuana use … impairment is a whole other category, and there’s great concern that we’ll be seeing a lot of impairment,” Brekhus said.
But Brekhus added that she’s hopeful Reno’s emerging urban lifestyle will help keep people from driving while intoxicated.
“We have more urban environments and living than we ever have before with infill and that, so that presents opportunities, and we also have all these different ride-sharing … biking is easier than it has ever been, so we should be trending in a better way for people to not get in and know not to drive when they’re impaired, but we will see. And who knows, you may see the courts really hitting folks who are driving impaired, whether or not they cause a crash,” said Brekhus.
July 1, 2017 is a potentially busy day for Reno. The annual, month-long festival Art Town gets underway on July 1, so Councilmember Brekhus hopes that July 1 is something of soft start for adult use marijuana in Reno. California does not begin adult use sales until January 1, 2018.
“The last thing I’d like to see are big adds in the Sacramento Bee or the Chronicle, ‘Come up to Reno … it’s legal July 1’ … let’s start it, particularly because it does coincide with the beginning of Art Town where the city has a big investment in a family-friendly environment … I don’t know,” said Brekhus. “I’m hoping it will be a soft start because its already geared up through other communities and the medical, but we will see.”
For Jenny Brekhus, Nevada voters have issued marching orders regarding adult use marijuana, and it’s incumbent on elected leaders to respect the will of the people and do their best to implement Ballot Question 2.
“On a lot of levels, it was unacceptable that it took the state 15 years to get medical on, and we didn’t want to be the one dragging our feet on recreational.”
When asked if the City Council has spent an inordinate amount of time grappling with legal marijuana in Reno, Brekhus said marijuana deliberations have been an expected part of the mix.
“Most of the discussion has been at Council meetings and also acceptance that the voters are talking to us on this one, and frankly we have a lot of issues at the City of Reno to deal with, so not a lot of time has been spent on this, but enough with our staff to get us to where we need to be to let the business start on July 1.”