$1.8M OK’d in run-up to pot change

The Interim Finance Committee on Monday approved spending $1,878,795 to hire as many as seven full-time employees to implement the new medical marijuana law.

Senate Bill 374 creates a system to provide marijuana and related products to Nevadans authorized to use marijuana for medical reasons. It’s modeled after systems used in Colorado and Arizona and would license and control cultivators of marijuana; businesses that produce edible and other non-smokable marijuana products; labs that test the products for purity and strength; and dispensaries that provide the drug and other products to card holders.

Marla McDade Williams, who is managing development of the program, said the authorization will add that much money to the dispensary licenses and fees to fund staff — primarily inspectors who would keep tabs on licensees.

Asked what happens if some local jurisdictions opt out, refusing to allow the businesses to open in their counties, she said that if seven people aren’t needed to handle the work, fewer staffers will be hired.

But Williams said the new law provides a very small window in which to certify applicants and get them licensed properly. She said she needs staff to do that.

She added that she will be back at the February finance committee meeting to ask for more staff in preparation for April, when the law takes effect and the applications begin coming in.

Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, asked what guarantees that the state will be reimbursed for its up-front spending to get the program up and running.

“I don’t believe the general fund is ever envisioned in there to pick up this workload,” Williams said. “Right now, revenues are enough to pay back what we’ve borrowed and manage the program. If they come in lower, we’re going to adjust our program.”

The entire program will be paid for with fees paid by all of the licensees, she said. Any excess collections will be deposited to the general fund and earmarked for public schools.

The vote split partially on party lines, with Assembly Republicans who opposed the bill itself during the 2013 Legislature voting no. They are John Hambrick of Las Vegas, James Oscarson of Pahrump, Randy Kirner and Pat Hickey of Reno and Ellison of Elko.


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