MMJ Tug of War In Nevada’s Clark County

Medical marijuana dispensaries in Nevada’s Clark county could start to open this month, following a recent ruling by Judge Kathleen Delaney that stated that the process used by the State Division of Public and Behavioral Health to determine which businesses may operate medical marijuana dispensaries in Clark county followed all rules and protocols correctly.

As we’ve seen happen in other states, legalizing medical marijuana could bring Nevada a step closer to legalizing it for recreational use. This puts Las Vegas, already a major tourist beacon, in a great spot to potentially rake in millions of tourist dollars if the current petition to legalize recreational marijuana by 2016 passes.

But first, Nevada lawmakers at the state and county levels have to work out how they choose which dispensary applicants get approval to operate.

Who Gets Approved?

The issue stemmed from the conflict between the state’s approval process and the county’s approval process. When applications for dispensary licenses opened up, 79 applicants filed to fill the 18 available spots to legally sell medical marijuana in the unincorporated parts of Clark county. An unincorporated area is a parcel of land with no municipal government that is instead governed by a higher level of administration such as its county or state.

Initially, ten of these applications were approved by both the state and the county. This left eight spots available for other hopeful prospective dispensary operators.

Of the remaining hopefuls, Nevada approved eight applications and Clark county approved another eight. In this latter group, five filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming that the state gave its chosen applicants preferential treatment and calling for an injunction to reexamine the state’s authorization process.

Clark County Strikes Back

But the attempt to re-open the state licensing process failed. On December 29th, 2014, 58 applications were denied by the Clark County Commission. Some of these applications had already been approved by the state. This was done in an attempt to force the state to re-open its licensing process.

Currently, only ten dispensaries are clear to launch: the original ten who received approval from both the county and the state.

County vs. State

When the lawsuit for the injunction failed, many Nevada residents felt it was a huge blow to the county’s autonomy to govern itself within the larger context of the state.

But it’s more than just that. On a national scale, this is a precedent for all the states that will legalize medical and recreational marijuana in the coming years. We’ve already seen and heard stories about the federal government prosecuting individuals who legally grow and use medical marijuana in their home states. This ongoing battle between Clark county and the state of Nevada isn’t much different from that – it’s a manifestation of the ongoing struggle between big and small government in the United States. And just like in benchmark cases like Gonzales vs. Raich, the bigger government prevailed in Nevada.

Photo Credit: Bert Kaufmann

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