Without the flash, cash or staff of national advocacy groups, a group of local Las Vegans are standing up on behalf of thousands of Nevada medical cannabis patients and scoring some substantial victories in the decade long struggle to reform Nevada’s flawed medical marijuana laws. Since its initial passage in 2001, NRS 453a has been decried by patient rights advocates as not fulfilling the mandate of the Constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1998 and 2000.
During this session in Carson City, the Wellness Education Cannabis Advocates of Nevada (WECAN), working with a core group of dedicated supporters have alternatively worked with and badgered members of the state Legislature to pass Senate Bill 374 with the state’s medical cannabis patients as the priority of focus. The bill passed the Nevada Senate yesterday. For a group with no organizational history or budget, some of the changes they’ve made in the bill are significant.
“Most lawmakers have consistently denied any knowledge of or personal experience with marijuana and yet feel that they perfectly understand the nuances of its medical application and how best to regulate it,” said WECAN president Jennifer Solas. “Patients in the state felt otherwise, and that it was important to keep the spotlight focused on patient needs rather than business or law enforcement concerns.”
Among the changes that WECAN successfully lobbied for in the bill are:
• A residency requirement for business establishment so that the industry would be developed by Nevadans with the proceeds funding the local economy
• An increase in the initial licensing of dispensaries in the state from 10 to 65
• Reciprocity that will include not only card-carrying medical marijuana patients from other states but documented patients from “other jurisdictions” as well, meaning Canadians and other international tourists can be included
• Establishing training requirements for those involved in the dispensing of cannabinoid medications to the patient base
• Including surety bonds into the concept of liquid assets to meet the bill’s imposed $150,000 threshold for entry into the dispensary business so that middle class entrepreneurs and not just the wealthy could take part in this emerging industry
• Requiring that all meds including bud, edibles, topical and oils be produced in-state
• Redefining where meds in a dispensary could be stored, so that they could be displayed for patients rather than being locked away in a safe
After the introduction of the original bill, an amendment was introduced at the request of law enforcement agencies which stripped away the ability of patients to be self-sufficient and produce their own cannabis, after a dozen years of state mandate that they do exactly that. WECAN mobilized the community which threatened to publicly pull support from the bill, if those patients who have already spent thousands of dollars on equipment were not permitted to retain their ability to grow their own. A compromise was reached wherein existing patients would be grandfathered in for two years while a newly formed subcommittee would study the issue and make recommendations for the next legislative session to continue the reform started this year.
As happens to many bills, this one nearly died in committee. Senate Finance Committee chair Debbie Smith was hostile to the issue and sat on the bill for weeks, until a concentrated phone and letter barrage from patients directed by WECAN was able to convince her to grant the bill a hearing and allowed it to move forward towards passage.
The bill now moves into the Assembly in the waning days of the session, and the group has refocused its attention on the Assembly Judiciary Committee, where the next hearing will take place. They plan to testify and hope to nudge a few more last minute adjustments before the bill is passed.
The group’s website www.wecan702.org provides a wealth of patient information and they already have almost 15,000 followers on FaceBook. As this session in Carson City winds down, WECAN is already planning a follow-up series of events and meetings through the summer and fall to help patients and business people navigate the new regulations.
“All of a sudden, outside money is starting to pour into Nevada in anticipation of this new economy. Our focus remains on how to make this program work for Nevadans, both compassionately and economically,” said WECAN board member and long-time activist Michael McAuliffe. “To that end, we’ll be launching a series of seminars for entrepreneurs and patients on how to take part in this new, green industry. We know that our history with the state program and our close association with legislators in this reform process make us more knowledgeable about the new law and better qualified to teach this subject than anyone jumping in from California or Colorado seeking to make a quick buck.”
Over the years local activists have joined various national groups like NORML, Marijuana Policy Project and Americans for Safe Access, only to find those groups unfamiliar with or unwilling to traverse the political landscape of the Silver State. After the national organizations ignored the federal raids which crushed the nascent dispensary industry that arose in 2010 out of patient frustration with the Legislature’s refusal to deal with the issue, McAuliffe and Solas, at that time ASA-Nevada committee members retrenched and started again. Along with ASA member Vicki Higgins, the trio created WECAN.
In March of 2012, District Judge Donald Mosley, on his last day on the bench, threw out the cases against the owners of Sin City Co-op, a medical cannabis dispensary, calling sections of NRS 453a “absurd” and declaring parts of the law unconstitutional. The case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has not yet issued a decision, but the activity caused serious consideration by several lawmakers, foremost among them attorney Richard “Tick” Segerblom, who announced in a joint appearance with McAuliffe on KVBC’s Face To Face in July 2012 that he intended to introduce a bill that would allow dispensaries and the emergence of a diverse medical marijuana industry across the state. Discussions were already underway by advocates and shortly thereafter WECAN was formed.