Does Cannabis Regulation in Nevada Overlook Patients and Tourists?

Is CBD legal in Nevada?

The short answer is most definitely yes.

The long answer is still definitely yes. But the story of how the legalization of cannabis in Nevada is playing out, both in terms of medical marijuana and recreational cannabis, is as eccentric as Sin City itself.

All states are having to hash out the kinks of whatever degree of legalization they have adopted, even the nine states that have fully legalized. California (a fully legalized state), for example, is regulating hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD)differently than all other cannabis products, even though it is a fully legalized state. Because California is deferring to the federal FDA’s position on CBD, cannabinoids are not legal for the time being, even though they are currently being sold and ingested throughout the state.

  • These strange legal obstructions are popping up all over the legalization landscape, usually hindering the health benefits of legalization, and sometimes hindering the commercial benefits of it as well. In Nevada—a state that by all measures seems to be all-in with legalization—there’s been a bit of both. True, like in many states that have fully legalized, the benefits thus far seem remarkable. But while Nevada seems keen to show the world how legalization is done Vegas-style, there are some concerning hitches with issues such as:
  • the effect of recreational legalization on medical marijuana patients
  • the quandary of where tourists can ingest cannabis
  • and the reliability of marijuana DUI testing

To understand how these concerns arose, we’ll first take a look at how legalization unfolded in Nevada.

Nevada’s Cannabis Legislation History

  • Medical Marijuana (1998, 2000)—In the 1998 November elections, Nevada voters passed Question 9 (Nevada Medical Marijuana Act) with a 59% majority. Because this was an amendment to the state constitution, it had to pass in two consecutive elections. In 2000, Question 9 passed with 65% approval.
  • Failed Attempts at Full Legalization (2002, 2004, 2006)—In 2002 Question 9 proposed to legalize possession of 3 ounces of marijuana for adults 21 and older and to create a regulatory system for it. It was defeated. In 2004, an initiative to legalize marijuana failed to get on the ballot. Once again, in 2006, Question 7, an initiative to legalize marijuana for adults 21+ was not supported by voters.
  • Legislation for Dispensaries in 2013 (13 years later …)—In July of 2013, the governor signed SB 374 for Nevada’s Medical Marijuana Dispensary Law. Again … 13 years after medical marijuana passed. It’s this kind of snafu that can be found in every state and proves that legalization and legislation are rarely ever done with the welfare of patients who truly need it as the priority.
  • First Marijuana Dispensary Opens—July 2015, the first marijuana dispensary opens in Sparks, NV, 14 years after medical marijuana was legalized.
  • Legalization of Recreational Cannabis—In 2016, Question 2, an initiative to fully legalize marijuana for adults was finally passed by voters. The Initiative to Regulate and Tax Marijuana would legalize possession of one ounce of cannabis for adults 21 years and over.

On January 1, 2017, possession and consumption became legal. And on July 1, 2017, dispensaries began to sell recreational marijuana in Nevada. Notice, this was less than a year after the initiative had passed.  

Have Medical Marijuana Patients Been Forgotten?

A better question might be, were they ever remembered? In 2000, voters passed the final initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Nevada. But no language was included to allow for the sale, regulation or taxation of medical marijuana. Patients were left to grow the plant themselves—up to 12 per person—or find their medical pot some other way.

Imagine a person with an illness that required a particular strain of medical cannabis. That patient or their caretaker, or worse yet, the parent of a child was left to grow their own plants or find a dealer with the particular strain they needed? What would guarantee the safety of the product?

Thirteen years later, the governor signed SB 374 for Nevada’s Medical Marijuana Dispensary Law. And two years after that, in 2015, the first medical dispensary opened its doors. In an article in the Las Vegas Sun, marijuana analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures Karmen Hanson said that usually by two years after medical marijuana approval in a state, at least some dispensaries are up and running. So what happened in Nevada?

There certainly was no delay for recreational dispensaries to open. Seven months after the initiative was passed in November of 2016, recreational marijuana legislation was passed, and it could be sold. Of course, there was the benefit of certain systems already in place from the medical marijuana program. Many dispensaries obtained dual licenses. But it’s difficult to dismiss the disparity between commercial-driven legislation and health-driven legislation when it comes to cannabis. Sure it helps to be able to promote the health benefits of cannabis by appealing to all its other benefits. But advocates for medical marijuana patients would say that it shouldn’t be at the expense of patients’ welfare.

Medical marijuana advocate Mona Lisa Samuelson claims that Nevada’s recreational marijuana market has been detrimental to patients who need certain kinds of cannabis for their specific ailments.   

Nevada has kept the medical marijuana program separate from recreational legislation. It’s true that the medical marijuana program has its advantages, such as:

  • medical marijuana cardholders can be under 21.
  • recreational users may only possess one ounce of cannabis; cardholders are allotted 2.5 times that.
  • cardholders are not subject to the 10% tax on recreational marijuana.
  • if cardholders have any difficulty getting to a dispensary, they may cultivate their own plants.

That being said, Samuelson argues that commerce has driven out the needs of medical marijuana patients. Because of competition, some are unable to get the strains they need and the quality control for recreational weed does not test for all toxins.  

The Tourist Dilemma

If you’re a tourist over 21 and you have an ID, then you can legally purchase marijuana. And you can legally possess marijuana—sort of. Some casinos and rental car companies warn tourist not to even bring it in. And casino hotels definitely do not want it consumed on their property. It is only legal to ingest cannabis in your private residence. Because casino hotels must comply with federal laws, it is in their absolute best interest not to have marijuana being consumed on their property.

This is the law in most states, but it puts a major tourism state like Nevada in a jam. Special off-strip, Amsterdam-like lounges are being considered. “We know how to capitalize on things that other states won’t allow,” Sen. Tick Segerblom told NPR in July 2017.

The Problems with Marijuana DUI Testing

Just in time for recreational legalization, Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, sponsored a bill that only allows law enforcement to use a blood test to detect THC for marijuana DUI cases. Urine tests, which are less expensive and more efficient—only show that a person has used THC in the past. A blood test will show if THC is in the blood.

Still, many believe that the blood tests are not reliable tools for determining driving impairment. Firstly, the amount allowed by law in Nevada is 2 nanograms of active THC in the blood—an amount virtually impossible to be below if you test positive for THC. Secondly, an AAA study suggests that there is no scientific way to measure the impairment of a driver after ingesting THC. Regular users may have high amounts in their blood, but not be high at all.

In Conclusion

Each state that joins the ranks of some form of legalization seems to experience its own set of onboarding struggles. It is obvious that Nevada has made great strides with cannabis legalization. Cannabis in all forms is available (with restrictions, of course), jobs have been created, and revenue has been generated. About $56 million dollars in taxes were earned in the first year of legal recreational sales. Upwards of $12 million of that is set to go to schools. Additionally, its been a major boost for the Las Vegas Piute Tribe that operates one of the most popular dispensaries.

So, while Nevada’s legalization has undoubtedly opened doors for the benefits of cannabis, it has also posed challenges, if not hardships, for medical marijuana patients, tourists, casinos and other businesses that serve tourists. The benefits of cannabis for patients should always remain at the forefront of legislation. After all, these patients were the reason for opening the door; we need to take care not to run them over and leave them behind.


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