The Green Gold Rush in the Silver State

By Benjie Cooper

IG: @nuglifenews

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Recreational cannabis is currently legal in eight of the United States as well as the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. But there almost seems to be an inevitability when it comes to its availability after legal sales initially commence. It’s practically a given that product will initially run short or completely sell out when non-medical users first take to the dispensary floors en masse. Of the legal locales, Washington, Alaska, Washington D.C., Colorado, and now Nevada have all experienced shortages when marijuana has first become available to legal adults. Oregon dispensaries suffered shortages in 2016 after strict product standards led to a backlog at testing facilities, and Maine, Massachusetts, and California have yet to begin recreational sales.

When Nevada’s 47 licensed dispensaries were first allowed to open their doors to adults 21 and older on July 1, weekend transactions totaled more than 40,000; nearly twice as many sales as retailers were anticipating. The mad grab for legal herb resulted in dispensaries running out of product to stock their shelves with, and governor Brian Sandoval endorsing emergency regulations to try to help ease the situation.

As part of Question 2, the 2016 bill that legalized recreational cannabis use in Nevada, alcohol distributors have first pick when it comes to distribution licenses. Additionally, for the first year-and-a-half, existing medical marijuana establishments will be the only ones licensed for retail sales.  According to the measure, alcohol wholesalers were to be the only transporters of recreational marijuana for the first 18 months, but when the first day of legal sales came around on July 1, the state had not been able to hand out any licenses. Out of the roughly 70 or so that operate in Nevada, only seven of them applied. Out of those seven, Crooked Wine Company in Reno, and Rebel One in Las Vegas were the only two applications that were accepted. Crooked Wine has ties to Reno-based medical cannabis distributor, Blackbird. Crooked will hold the license, but Blackbird will be handling actual on-the-ground operations.

Following the governor’s endorsement, the tax commission board held a hearing where both dispensary owners and alcohol wholesalers debated as to whether or not state liquor distributors could adequately handle the state’s needs. At the end of the hearing, the commission unanimously approved a measure to extend the availability of distribution licenses beyond the alcohol industry. Alcohol distributors may challenge the decision, but for now, the Department of Taxation will follow the situation and determine how many licenses they believe are needed for the market.

Even amidst the statewide cannabis crisis, some Nevada dispensaries have been able to keep their shelves sufficiently stocked. Silver State Relief, Nevada’s first medical marijuana dispensary in Sparks, runs their own production facility and was able to handle the recreational shortage with relative ease. Cannabis flower and concentrates have been readily available at the shop since legal sales began, but management says that edibles are what they have been running out of because they rely on outside sources to obtain them. Nearby Sierra Wellness Connection in Reno, also says edibles are the thing that they’ve not been able to keep in stock. The dispensary runs a cultivation facility as well, but pre-rolls have been unavailable as of late.

With legal sales starting in California in 2018, efforts are underway to ensure that the state doesn’t experience the same shortages that others have. In light of the recent situation in Nevada, Chief of California’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, Lori Ajax says that the agency will be ensuring that there are an adequate amount of licenses awarded when legal sales begin on January 2, 2018. Temporary four-month licenses will be available to some businesses, including growers. Massachusetts was originally scheduled to begin recreational marijuana sales in January 2018 also, but the rollout date has been pushed back to June to allow for more time to prepare.

Outside of medical use, legal cannabis is a new industry in Nevada. It will take some time to work out initial problems with the system and require ongoing efforts to ensure that it works efficiently.  While not perfect, other states have enacted successful recreational marijuana laws, and they demonstrate that even though things might not go right at first, with some time and effort, and as long as the federal government stays out of it, a functioning legal cannabis system is attainable.