Chaos Continues in Nevada’s Marijuana Derby

In the 2013 session, the Nevada Legislature approved Sen. Tick Segerblom’s bill to establish and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. It was an historic vote – and Sen. Segerblom was kind enough to invite my then-13-year-old daughter to sit right next to him as it passed.

Thanks again, Senator.

Sen. Segerblom’s objective was clearly to make Nevada THE regulatory model for legal medical marijuana use in the country.  At the time, that bill was probably the best we could do.  Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences has kicked in.

In order to get *something* passed, Sen. Segerblom’s bill included a limit to the number of dispensaries that would be allowed to operate in Nevada rather than letting the free market work its magic.

And that’s where today’s problems began.

By limiting the number of dispensary licenses that would be issued, the government made itself the arbiter of who would win and who would lose in the competition for one of the prized “Golden Tickets.” And what a mess it’s made of the whole thing.

First, the state decided that it would evaluate the proposed business plans – submitted anonymously for various sections – of the applicants and issue provisional operating licenses.

For their part, the local city and county jurisdictions would evaluate the proposed business plans to see if they met local zoning and other concerns and also issue provisional operating licenses.

What nobody, unbelievably, apparently saw coming is what would happen if the state OK’d an applicant that was rejected by the local folks…or vice-versa.

And that’s EXACTLY the problem we now have on our hands.

For example, the Department of Public and Behavioral Health (DPBH) determined that of all the applications for dispensaries submitted to it for Clark County, Trykes Companies was #1. However, the Clark County Commission – which was given 18 Golden Tickets to award to local dispensary applicants – rejected Trykes.

On the other hand, those same Clark County commissioners tapped Nevada Medical Marijuana Dispensaries as its #1 pick. But the DPBH rejected that group even though it’s made up of five medical DOCTORS, one of whom would be on call at the MEDICAL marijuana dispensary at all times during operating hours.

Yeah, we can’t have THAT at a medical office, can we?

So the state picks applicant A and the county picks applicant B.

Who gets the Golden Ticket?

Of equal concern is the whole discombobulated system the DPBH used to evaluate the submitted dispensary applications.

A number of applicants I have spoken with since last week have told me they thought the state was going to, essentially, simply issue a “Qualified” or “Unqualified” rating, provide a provisional state license to all who met the minimal qualifications for operations, and then let the local authorities make the final decisions on who would be approved to actually open for business.

After all, the locals are the ones who not only know the applicants themselves, but will have to deal with any and all day-to-day operating problems that might come up.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, the DPBH determined how many dispensary licenses were available for each local jurisdiction and only issued provisional licenses for exactly that many operations.

Another unexpected surprise was that the DPBH’s rating system turned out to not be an all-or-nothing proposition for each of seven scoring categories as some applicants expected.

For example, in the category of assessing if the business had sufficient plans for security at the proposed dispensary, 75 points were at stake. Some applicants were under the impression that if their business plan included sufficient plans for providing sufficient security that they would receive 75 points.  If not, they’d get zero in that category.

Instead, the individual reviewer of the security plans of each application was given the power to rate the security proposal on a sliding scale. So one applicant might receive a score of 42 while another received a score of 57.

Worse, it wasn’t the same reviewer who reviewed each of the security plans for each applicant. So one reviewer might have been looking for one thing in the security plan while another was more interested in something else entirely.  In other words, each brought a certain level of personal bias in each review.

I’m not sure that’s what the Legislature intended.

In any event, the real problem here is that the DPBH is refusing to release the details of each score assessed to each dispensary applicant. So those unsuccessful applicants, who spent thousands and thousands of dollars preparing their applications, have no idea whatsoever why their applications were rejected or who the evaluators are who gave them low scores.

That is simply unacceptable.

DPBH needs to release the full details of the scores it assigned to each application BY CATEGORY, as well as identify the evaluator who assessed that grade to each category BY CATEGORY.

And not only should those scoring details be immediately made available to the applicants themselves, they should be made available to the general public if the applicant signed the “consent to release” form allowing the DPBH to post the scores on their website.

In addition, not only should the scores of applicants be made public, the IDENTITY of every applicant should be made public.

As it is, unless the applicant specifically signed a “consent to release” form, the names of the applicants to whom the state has issued licenses remains hidden from Nevada’s citizens!

That is simply not acceptable.

The identities of every applicant who was scored should be disclosed to the public whether they signed the release form or not.

And by the way, such transparency is not some radical notion.

In fact, Massachusetts not only rates applications and posts the scores on its website, it breaks down the scoring by category for EVERY applicant and identifies them by name.

For example, 1Relief, Inc. scored 6 out of 9 possible points in the Category of “Applicant’s Corporate Background” and 25 out of a possible 65 points in the Category of “Location and Physical Structure.”

Click here.

In fact, Massachusetts posts on its website the entire application that was submitted, as well as a “Scoring Detail Report,” a “Scoring Narrative” and a “Scoring Summary” so that EVERYONE knows exactly what is going on – including/especially the public.

Click here.

There is NO REASON whatsoever for the DPBH to hide the same such information from Nevada’s citizens.

DPBH’s secrecy on this matter – especially in hiding the scoring details by category from the applicants themselves – is appalling and totally unacceptable. This failure to disclose is now a week old and it is outrageous that the applicants are still being kept in the dark.

If the Legislature’s intent was to establish a model regulatory system that would be the envy of the nation, the DPBH has implemented the exact opposite. Nevada is on the verge of becoming a national laughingstock when it comes to transparency in this matter.

Or at least on par with Chicago, as evidenced by this headline in today’s Chicago Tribune:

“Ex-Bear promoting medical pot while licensing process continues in secret”

Does Nevada really want the reputation of regulating marijuana “the Chicago way”?

It’s long past time for the Governor and Legislators to start making some phone calls to DPBH.

In case they don’t know the number, let me help them out. It’s (775) 684-3487.

Ask for Pam Graber. She is the Education and Information Officer for Medical Marijuana Program who has been stonewalling requests for this information. She’ll be expecting your call.