A packed room at the Board of Supervisors meeting Aug. 18, 2022 debates additional marijuana dispensaries in Carson City.
Photo by Scott Neuffer.
After hours of public comment — the overwhelming majority opposed to additional marijuana dispensaries in Carson City — the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on Thursday to approve the first reading of an ordinance changing the number of marijuana dispensaries allowed in the city from two to four.
“There isn’t an easy answer here,” said Mayor Lori Bagwell, the deciding vote that carried the motion forward.
Supervisors Stacey Giomi and Lisa Schuette voted nay, while supervisors Stan Jones and Maurice White cast votes in favor.
Las Vegas-based Qualcan, the applicant, brought the same request to the Planning Commission last month but was denied after public testimony against the project swayed commissioners. Public sentiment has not shifted, but Jones and White questioned their right to influence market and business forces.
“I don’t think it’s the purpose of this board to restrict or manipulate the market,” said White, who also cited the Carson City Sheriff’s Office having reported no problems with existing dispensaries.
Giomi and Schuette disagreed.
“It comes down to what’s right for Carson City,” said Giomi. “We have an opportunity here to be cautious.”
Minutes after the motion carried, Giomi made another motion to rescind the approval and add more regulatory oversight but later withdrew it. Audible moans and complaints could be heard from the public after it became clear the original motion passed and would not be rescinded.
Leading up to the vote, lengthy public comment raised concerns about the effects marijuana dispensaries and increased marijuana use could have on the community.
Carson resident Shelly Aldean called additional dispensaries “an incredibly slippery slope.”
“It will forever change the moral character of Carson City,” she said.
Andrew Orton, manager of a Rise dispensary in Reno – which also operates a store in Carson – said he’s seen a sharp reduction in demand, and new stores are not needed. He said existing dispensaries have invested in Carson City.
“It’s a privilege to be here, not a right,” he said.
The new ordinance did spark old debate between the applicant and local producers and retailers in what is a heavily regulated — and contested — new industry. Recreational marijuana was legalized in the Silver State in 2016. Carson City passed the first ordinance limiting establishments to two in 2017, though state law allows four for a city of Carson’s size.
“These are experienced business people,” said attorney Severin Carlson, representing Qualcan. “This offers an opportunity for consumers to have choices.”
Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong testified during public comment that though the sheriff’s office has concerns about drive-through services, they have not seen “a significant rise in crime” since marijuana retailers opened in Carson.
The new ordinance doesn’t prohibit drive-through service but does set strict development standards of how close dispensaries can be to schools (1,000 feet) and homes (300 feet). It also limits daily business hours to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. A separate ordinance — unanimously passed before the Qualcan vote — changed code to allow curbside pickup service with a special use permit.
Marijuana retailers can’t open any stores without a valid license from the state, as overseen by the Cannabis Compliance Board. According to Heather Ferris, city associate planner, two conditional licenses have already been granted by the state for the Carson area, one to Qualcan, and the other to Essence Henderson, LLC. The latter belongs to the parent company of the existing Rise dispensary, Orton confirmed. Qualcan had originally proposed a dispensary near the intersection of highways 395 and 50, much to the chagrin of neighbors.
Bagwell emphasized the new ordinance does not change zoning or design standards, and applicants will still have to comply with code and special use permit provisions.