MLN Editor

Mesquite’s legislative lobbyist Warren Hardy addressed the city council at its Tuesday, Jan. 10 meeting regarding issues related to recreational marijuana. “This is as much a political issue as it is a legal issue,” Hardy said. Photo by Barbara Ellestad.

On a 3-2 vote, Mesquite’s City Council repealed a portion of its municipal code requiring a voter referendum on allowing recreational marijuana growth, sale, and distribution within city limits at its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 10.

Councilman George Rapson labeled the referendum, passed in 2014 when a medical marijuana dispensary was approved, irrelevant after 54 percent of statewide voters approved recreational marijuana in the November election.

Councilman Dave Ballweg said he wanted the restriction upheld since 57 percent of Mesquite voters said no to the state measure.

“I made the motion back then to require voter approval of recreational marijuana in Mesquite,” Rapson said. “Everything’s changed. Back then we didn’t know what the law would look like. Now, we know what the law says. We know it’s legal in the state. We have a high confidence level that there is no opt-in, opt-out by the city.

“What it leaves us with are two choices. We can have one legal, controlled, taxed distribution outlet, period. Or we can have 100, 500, a 1,000 unlicensed, unregulated, uncontrolled grow facilities in this town. That’s not an easy choice. I’m going with the one grow facility that’s licensed, tested and taxed.”

The initiative that voters approved says any adult can grow and cultivate up to six plants per person of recreational marijuana unless there is a state-licensed grow and cultivation facility within 25 miles. Deep Roots Medical, an approved medical marijuana facility located on the west side of the city, is interested in becoming a state-licensed grow, cultivation and distribution facility for recreational marijuana.

Rapson said the only difference would be if the state gave the city an opt-in, opt-out provision that would prohibit any grow, cultivation or use by anyone within city limits. In a later discussion, the city’s legislative lobbyist, Warren Hardy, said that probably will not happen.

City Attorney Bob Sweetin agreed with Rapson and Hardy saying, “the default is, if the city doesn’t approve a licensed facility, anyone can grow their own.”

“This provision in the ordinance hamstrings us into one option. That’s the open season on pot growing, pot selling and transferring” if there’s not a licensed facility within 25 miles,” Rapson said. He added the city could use some of the proceeds from a licensed, taxed facility to add police officers to combat problems that could come from the use of recreational marijuana.

Ballweg said “The only thing that’s changed is George’s mind to rescind the referendum. We’re sending a mixed message to the state if we delete the referendum requirement. We can send a signal by not rescinding the caveat.” He added the possession and use of recreational marijuana will be legal in Mesquite but private growers would not be able to sell it.

Ballweg also reminded the council that taxes go to the state and education. The only income to the city would come from license fees and payroll taxes. He also said he didn’t think the extra income from marijuana sales would offset the extra policing that may be needed.

“Nevada didn’t legalize recreational marijuana. They just told law enforcement to ignore federal law,” Ballweg said.

Councilmen Geno Withelder and Rich Green voted with Rapson in repealing the referendum. Green explained he voted to approve medical marijuana because of three things: the need for it by patients, the product safety a regulated facility would provide and the economic benefits to the city from license fees and employee payrolls. “All of those things prevail with recreational marijuana but to a larger extent,” Green said. “The payroll is a multiplier that’s more significant than the license fees we get.”

Withelder said the city had just received approximately $60,000 in gross receipts from Deep Roots Medical from their medical marijuana dispensary. “It’s never going away,” he said about recreational marijuana. “We should control it, tax it, and forget about it.”

City Councilman Brian Wursten suggested the city slow down saying, “Why are we in such a hurry? We shouldn’t do anything on this until we see what the state comes up with. I’m really mixed on this because 60 percent of the voters in the city said they didn’t want it.”

He also said it bothers him because he believes people will come across the state border, purchase marijuana in Mesquite and stay here to get high. “That’s where our problems will come from. If people can grow their own, they’ll stay home to consume it.” He voted with Ballweg to keep the voter referendum in place.

Mayor Al Litman said it would cost the city about $50,000 to hold the referendum vote and it wouldn’t take place until November 2018.

In a related agenda item, the council attempted to give the lobbyist Hardy guidance on issues related to how recreational marijuana laws are developed in the upcoming legislative session. Hardy confirmed that the legislators cannot alter the law as it was passed by voters for three years. “This is as much a political issue as it is a legal issue,” Hardy said. He also cautioned the councilors that he would fight to maintain local control “as much as we can. But this legislature probably won’t give the answer we want” in terms of an opt-in, opt-out option for grow and sale provisions of recreational marijuana. He agreed with Rapson that there was very little chance of Mesquite being allowed to opt-out of the law’s full provisions.

Rapson, Green and Withelder encouraged Hardy to pressure the state to quickly approve temporary licenses for the growth and sale of recreational marijuana and allow Mesquite to approve a license in the city that would quickly disallow private grow. Ballweg and Wursten disagreed.

Litman summed up directions for Hardy saying “Go forth young man and get us what you can.”

Sweetin asked the council to give him time to develop materials for their consideration that would clarify their wishes more clearly. They agreed.