CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A glimmer of hope grew a bit brighter Friday for Nevadans who have been waiting 13 years since the legalization of medicinal marijuana to finally have access to the drug.
Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, presented SB374 to the Senate Judiciary Committee a week after he took members on a field trip to Arizona to hash out the complexities of the bill.
"I came away from Arizona realizing the faster we can get this moving, the better," Segerblom said. He added that he hopes for the first dispensary in Nevada to open within a year.
The bill sets the framework for establishing and regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in Nevada, and it allows for those dispensaries to operate store fronts for registered medical marijuana patients.
Despite the state legalization of medical marijuana in 2000 and several attempts at laws like this bill, no legislature has passed policy allowing for the distribution of the drug. The reason for that is likely twofold: political pressure and concern of federal intervention because marijuana is still a controlled substance federally, Segerblom said.
"I'm actually very surprised at the amount of support this bill is getting," Segerblom said. "It doesn't have the political bugaboo attached to it like it has in past years."
The majority of the committee Friday echoed the same sentiment that the time has come for medical marijuana dispensaries.
"This is a really important thing. You need to implement the law and so far that has not taken place," said Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas.
Committee members returned from Arizona with a number of proposed amendments, including changing the dispensaries from nonprofit to for-profit and increasing fees associated with starting and operating a dispensary.
"This is a business that will make a lot of money, so from my perspective it has got to be serious businesses that are serious about the process," said Sen. Mark Hutchinson, R-Las Vegas. He added that dispensaries in Arizona make $100,000 to $700,000 per month, so the increased fees would not be a hindrance to dispensaries opening for business.
But opponents contend the increased fees favor big businesses and squash opportunities for private citizens seeking to get involved.
Albeit unfortunate, that fact is likely unavoidable due to the tense legal environment surrounding medicinal marijuana, Segerblom said.
"This is a big business and an ordinary person couldn't manage it, wouldn't have the capital to buy the equipment," Segerblom said. "People have to have a lot of money, and it's sad, but I don't think a lot of these home growers are going to be able to participate."
He added that federal intervention is unlikely because President Obama isn't likely to "go backward" on the issue.
Law enforcement representatives stressed the need for specific regulations dealing with security of the facilities and cautioned about possible federal action.
Committee members responded that the bill does not create dispensaries, but allows for dispensaries to open if operators want to take on the risks therein.
Others asked lawmakers to clear records of registered medical marijuana users who have had run-ins with the law since 2000.
"Let them get jobs again," said Cindy Brown, who testified from Las Vegas. "We have suffered greatly to have access to this product and to get the health benefits."
After the meeting, Segerblom told The Associated Press that a vote will happen before the deadline for bills to clear committee in two weeks.
"We're going to get this done, because that's what we're supposed to do," said Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas.
For the Nevadans who have been prescribed a drug without access to it, the wait may almost be over.