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One Year Later: Marijuana's Impact On Nevada

marijuana_lines.jpg

Associated Press

People lined up to buy recreational marijuana when it was first legalized July 1, 2017.

As of July 1, it's been one year since recreational marijuana was legalized in Nevada.

And one of the lawmakers behind the effort to legalize the drug, State Senator Tick Segerblom, told KNPR's State of Nevada that legalized marijuana has been an "overwhelming success."

He noted the millions raised in taxes and the thousands of jobs created by legalization. Also, he said the adverse impact predicted by those opposed to legalization hasn't happened.

"The reality is.... it hasn't changed at all," he said, "If you walk around or do anything in Nevada, you wouldn't even know things have changed. All of the adverse impacts none of them have occurred."

There has been some confusion about where the taxes raised from marijuana sales have gone. 

There is a 15 percent wholesale tax on marijuana and another 10 percent retail tax on recreational marijuana, but it is not charged on medical marijuana purchases.

Revenue from the retail tax has gone into the state's rainy day fund. The wholesale tax pays for enforcement and administration of the marijuana laws. Any money left over from that is directed towards education.

Segerblom said the money gathered in taxes was much higher than anyone anticipated and he expects some of the tax distribution to be addressed in the next legislative session.

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The taxes levied on marijuana could make the difference in its success and more importantly in eliminating - or at least weakening - the black market.

Rianna Durrett is the executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association. She said so far Nevada hasn't taxed people back into the black market.

"If we over-regulate or we overtax, then prices will increase and that will drive people onto the black market," she said, "There is a sweet spot and if you go over that sweet spot people go back into the black market."

Demetri Kouretas is the CEO of the Grove Dispensary, which has two branches in Southern Nevada.

He said the going rate for an eighth of marijuana flower is about $60 to $75 in a dispensary compared with $30 to $45 on the street. He says Nevada's wholesale prices continue to be too high.

However, while the price at a dispensary is higher, people are willing to pay the extra money because they know they are getting clean marijuana that has been tested and meets state standards, Kouretas said.

One of the biggest challenges for legal dispensaries when trying to battle the black market is online sales. Not all online sales are from legal dispensaries and some illegal sites have used the logos or names of licensed dispensaries to fool people.

And finding a licensed dispensary in Nevada is not difficult, journalist Lissa Townsend Rogers found. She recently wrote an article about the one year anniversary of marijuana sales for Desert Companion magazine.

She said there is really just about every type of dispensary for every person and a type of marijuana product for every taste, including weed beef jerky and weed-infused cold brew coffee.

"There are all kinds of products," she said, "You can get your fancy rose gold plated vape pen or you can just get a cheap pre-roll. There is really a wide range."

It is that wide range of products that has made enforcement difficult for Las Vegas Metro Police, deputy chief Chris Darcy told KNPR. 

"I think the concern here is with the children, making sure they're marked appropriately," Darcy said.

Durrett said Nevada actually had regulations in place before sales started to prevent some of the problems other states have had with products looking too appealing to children. 

Besides the seemingly endless variety of marijuana products, Darcy said there haven't been any big problems with legalized marijuana from the law enforcement point of view.

One of the issues that remain outstanding is figuring out impairment. There is no field test for marijuana impairment. Officers are using the field sobriety test they use for alcohol impairment.

And there is still no standard for blood tests either. Someone can have trace amounts of marijuana in their bloodstream, known as metabolites, even though they are not impaired by the drug.

"It's a challenge for us in law enforcement how we go forward and actually put a case together to show that level of impairment," he said. 

Testing for impairment is just one problem that still needs to be addressed. There is also the issue of banking. Most banks won't provide services to marijuana business for fear of losing their federal licenses. 

That means most marijuana businesses deal strictly in cash, which makes them targets for criminals.

There is also the issue of public consumption. While people can consume marijuana on private property, Las Vegas tourists don't have a place to consume it legally.

And there is a stigma attached to marijuana, Segerblom pointed out that people can still get fired from their jobs for testing positive for marijuana -whether there was proof of impairment or not - even though it is a legal drug. 

 

Guests

Riana Durrett, executive director, Nevada Dispensary Association; Lissa Townsend Rogers, journalist; Tick Segerblom, Nevada state senator; Demetri Kouretas, CEO, The Grove Dispensary; Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Office

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