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The Potential And The Pitfalls Of The Marijuana Business

Marijuana plant
David McNew/Getty Images

Nevada lawmakers traveled to Colorado to see how legal recreational marijuana is working in that state.

A week ago, five Nevada lawmakers and more than a dozen lobbyists, public defenders and others traveled to Denver.

Their mission?

To see how the business of medical and recreational marijuana works in the Mile High City.

Recreational pot has been legal in Colorado for more than a year. In 2016, Nevada voters will cast ballots to determine if it gets legalized here.

There are pitfalls and there is potential in the marijuana business as the group witnessed firsthand in Colorado.

St. Senator Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas said Colorado had a learning curve after the drug was made legal there and Nevada would have the same thing, if voters approve it.

“They’re learning lots of things that they didn’t know about that they’re having to address on a constant basis. We’re not the only ones that learn has we go,” Segerblom said.

Issues like how to transfer a business, edibles, store locations and banking problems have all had to be dealt with in Colorado. Segerblom said legal marijuana presents a unique set of problems.

“This business is so unique because it’s legal on a state basis but illegal on a federal basis,” he said.

Ron Dreher, the lobbyist for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Nevada, said legal marijuana presents issues for law enforcement.

He believes security is something that needs to be addressed. Dreher said because it’s a cash-only business, and because of the product, burglaries have gone up.

According to a report by the Denver Post in June of last year, the city was on pace in 2014 for 130 burglaries and robberies of the more than 700 licensed marijuana stores and cultivation facilities, which is down from the 170 burglaries and three robberies in 2012.  

Dreher believes the legalization has also made Mexican drug cartels unhappy.

“We’ve stepped on the cartels’ toes and the black market, in my opinion, that possess a threat to law enforcement and the public,” Dreher said.

He is also concerned about marijuana being a gateway drug.

“Marijuana is still viewed as a gateway drug or a gateway substance that leads to other uses of other controlled substances,” Dreher said.

However, while the number of people who use marijuana monthly has gone up from 14.4 million in 2007 to 18.9 million in 2012, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the use of cocaine and other drugs have dropped slightly.  

Despite his concerns, Dreher believes legalized marijuana is coming to Nevada.

St. Senator Patricia Farley, R-Las Vegas, went on the trip to Colorado and believes legalizing the drug would bring a lot of money to the state.

“I only see it as a good opportunity for Nevada and one that rightfully belongs in the state. Our state does very well regulating gaming and alcohol and potentially vice activities,” Farley said.

She said the medical marijuana industry has already benefited the state with retail and warehouse space rentals for dispensaries, construction jobs for cultivation and retail and the products that have been purchased for the shops.

“It’s a great opportunity for our state,” Farley said, “Nevada has an excellent reputation, a gold standard, of regulating these types of industries.”

While the debate over recreational marijuana use continues, several medical marijuana dispensaries in southern Nevada are moving forward.

Larry Doyle is a partner in Euphoria Wellness. He said the opening of his dispensary is only a few weeks away.

He said it has taken so long to get dispensaries open because owners, along with state and local officials, are all working in new territory.

“I think that the state is just trying to make sure that people are being offered medical marijuana in a safe and practical manner,” Doyle said.

But the difficulties of opening medical marijuana dispensaries highlight the kind of problems that could come with recreational pot. Doyle said there is a short supply of the drug because the cultivation end is not ready for sale, which means dispensaries are having to buy it from patients who have grown their own. 

St. Senator Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas; St. Senator Patricia Farley, R-Las Vegas; Ron Dreher, lobbyist, Combined Law Enforcement Association of Nevada; Larry Doyle, partner, Euphoria Wellness 

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.