By Emerson Marcus, RGJ
Demand for medical marijuana in Nevada is expected to double this year as dispensaries open and state lawmakers discuss potential patchwork legislation for the budding industry.
For starters, the number of medical marijuana cardholders in Washoe County jumped more than 65 percent in 2014.
“One thing we have been able to do is look at other states when they have gone to availability of establishments for medical marijuana,” said Pam Graber, information and education officer for Nevada’s medical marijuana program. “If Nevada performs as other states have, then our numbers will continue to go up as awareness rises.”
Dispensary operators, picked by the state, are in the process of rolling out their businesses now. It’s only a matter of time before the first of 65 statewide dispensaries opens and more people start asking their doctors about medical marijuana, Graber said.
“We think Nevada is going to be one of the largest markets in the country,” said Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech with one dispensary in Reno. “We want to make certain that our production and cultivation facility is ready for full production and has the ability to produce multiple strains and product offerings for potential patients.”
At the beginning of last year, there were 588 Washoe County residents with medical marijuana cards. At the end of the year, 975 residents were cardholders.
In Clark County, cardholders jumped from 3,544 to 5,833 in 2014. Statewide, 8,055 Nevadans were medical marijuana cardholders.
“We’re not surprised at all by these numbers,” said Joe Brezny, spokesman the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol in Nevada. “I would expect 15 to 20 thousand patients in Nevada within twelve months of dispensaries opening.”
With the opening of dispensaries, Nevadans obtaining medical marijuana cards through doctor prescription no longer need to grow on their own, which is expected to add to the growth in cardholders.
That’s because baby-boomers once accepting of marijuana, beginning to feel the effects of old age, are beginning to open to the option, Brezny said.
“People 50 to 65 who smoked in college — never saw anything wrong with it — think it will help ailments,” he said. “What we are hearing over and over is that finally this law makes sense. It’s finally a way to follow the rules and get medicine.”
Marijuana at the Legislature
Amid the growth in the medical marijuana industry is ongoing litigation in Clark and Washoe counties stemming from frustration over the process at the state and local levesl of granting businesses the permission to open dispensaries.
One of the key focuses is the need for more dispensaries, especially in Clark County.
But Brezny, along with State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, hope this process can be settled during the Legislature. Segerblom has drafted bill requests proposing an increase in the amount of dispensaries in each jurisdiction statewide.
“There are a number of topics I have heard that are going to be brought up at Legislature,” said Leslie Bocskor, the chairman of the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association.
Bocskor said the number of dispensaries could increase by as much as 50 percent.
In Washoe County, where lawmakers waited to hear from the state, there’s other issues. Three of the county’s five unincorporated dispensaries were given licenses in Incline Village and Crystal Bay. Businesses can’t move outside a five-mile radius once selected, according to the law.
Tests for impaired driving will also be addressed, Bocskor said.
“Currently our law is a very aggressive,” he said. That’s because metabolite testing — under the current system — can detect marijuana in someone’s system for weeks after they smoked.
“Some people who use it obviously won’t be under intoxicating effect but will have metabolites in system,” he said.
Meanwhile, there’s recreational marijuana, which was brought through an initiative petition and will go to the ballot if voted down in the Legislature.
“I think we will also see a discussion about the ballot initiative that was filed,” Bocskor said. “If it’s not in the Legislature it will be in the ballot box. I think the Legislative session will be very interesting this year, particularly in areas on expansion, private transfer of equity, those are some big issues we will be looking at.”