DENVER, Colo. (KNSV & MyNews) -- Nevada's newest industry may be its most controversial.
Thirteen years after the Legislature legalized medical marijuana, the state and local governments are just starting to allow people to grow and sell it.
Medical marijuana sales and farming are coming to Nevada. A look at what’s happening in Colorado hints at what can be expected here.
Nevada politicians, voters, businesses and patients are asking more questions as Clark County begins accepting applications for medical marijuana licenses. Colorado has already addressed most of those questions.
Few political leaders in Denver shy away from this growing industry, but not all issues were anticipated.
“We found ourselves frankly a little behind the eight-ball trying to regulate an industry that already exists,” says Chris Nevitt, a Denver City Council member.
“It all happened in a rush,” Nevitt says. “It was made legal in 2000-2001 and then nothing really happened.”
But in the mid-2000s, medical marijuana dispensaries began to open. Local leaders adopted zoning regulations and security mandates.
In the rush to catch up with dispensaries, political leaders noticed something - businesses were regulating themselves. They didn’t need to demand things like security; shops wanted it. Good business models succeeded and bad models failed.
If you run a business that deals with thousands of dollars in cash, and several pounds of marijuana daily, you tend to want to keep that all secure.
Dispensaries keep marijuana candy in plain packaging so kids don't get the wrong idea. They keep buds in child-proof bags. And they track their patients per state mandate.
“All the tie-dyed goofballs and potheads who were like ‘dude we can make some money at this, its legal now.’” Nevitt says. “They’re gone, they’re gone. The ones that are left have short hair, ties and business degrees.”
A similar change is apparent in the neighborhoods around medical marijuana shops and cultivation facilities.
Matthew Huron of Denver’s Good Chemistry spent a quarter of a million dollars on infrastructure and security here to protect the investment and keep customers safe. And the neighborhood evolved.
In the shadow of the state capitol, an area once home to drug deals and break-ins is upgrading itself.
“A lot of these dispensaries were put into ‘high crime’ areas because folks in high-end areas didn’t want to see them,” Huron says. “However, what’s happened is we've actually helped clean up the neighborhood.”
He says he likes strict local regulation because it keeps businesses smart and keeps federal officials away.
But Clark County may not see the same evolution of run-down areas. County leaders have decided not to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in high-crime areas.
Huron says since nice neighborhoods in Denver did not want the shops, the only option was to brave crime-ridden areas and try to turn them around.
Councilman Nevitt says that’s exactly what happened.
“If you want to bring crime down on a particular block, put a medical marijuana dispensary in there,” he says.
Looking at Nevada, Nevitt and Huron see a land grab coming. With only 40 dispensary licenses available in Clark County, the property where a dispensary is licensed may become more valuable than the business itself.
“By creating a limited number of opportunities, you’re basically creating a property right for who owns that regardless of how good that idea is,” Nevitt says.
As Huron and his business apply for a permit in Nevada, he faces a new challenge.
The state and local government appear to be working independently of each other, with Clark County licensing a business and then forwarding the application to the state.
“I’ve seen a bit of a conflict emerging between Clark County and the state. Is that concerning? Yes, yeah,” Huron says.
In Colorado and Massachusetts, all license applications go directly to the state. The counties in those states only handle zoning restrictions.