Tax official testifies Nevada pot sales licensing was fair
LAS VEGAS — Mistakes may have been made by temporary workers evaluating applications for dispensary licenses, but the process was fair, Nevada’s marijuana enforcement chief told a judge on Wednesday.
Jorge Pupo, state Department of Taxation deputy executive, testified in a court hearing on a legal challenge by dozens of businesses that were denied new licenses last December.
“The application process was a fair process,” he said.
The Las Vegas Sun reported that Pupo said applicants and others had the opportunity to attend more than 70 public meetings and workshops about marijuana licensing.
Dozens of companies that were rejected for permits to open retail pot stores want Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez to block the state from issuing new licenses.
At least seven lawsuits contend the licensing process wasn’t transparent and the state picked favored winners. Some maintain the process was unconstitutional, others seek financial damages. Some seek a do-over.
Wednesday was the ninth day of testimony, and the hearing continued Thursday. The Sun reported the judge said additional days are likely.
All sides expect Gonzalez’s ruling to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The Department of Taxation says the 65 medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries currently open reported more than $608 million in sales in 12 months.
The state announced last year it would nearly double the number of dispensaries, and 462 applications were submitted. Losing bidders complain that just 16 companies won all 61 licenses that were approved.
Attorneys for the state and some winning bidders defend the process and personnel used to evaluate and rank the applications.
Under questioning by attorney Ross Miller, representing multiple businesses including Oasis Cannabis, Pupo conceded that evaluators could have made mistakes like typographical errors in scoring.
“Licensees weren’t promised perfection, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “There’s a human element at play.”
Miller questioned Pupo about the effect of miscalculations on applicants that narrowly missed the scoring cut, but Pupo said it would not have been fair for him overrule the evaluators.
“I don’t know what their perspective, what they were looking at, was,” he said. “The evaluators were supposed to be independent.”