RENO — Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto says she’s as anxious as everyone else to find out the acting U.S. Attorney for Nevada’s take on the Trump administration’s marijuana policy.
The Nevada Democrat told the Reno Gazette Journal she’s encouraging Dayle Elieson to continue the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to recreational pot.
She says Elieson told her just before the former Texas prosecutor was appointed she didn’t have a position on a Trump administration memo that frees up U.S. prosecutors to enforce federal laws outlawing marijuana even in states’ like Nevada that have legalized it.
Masto says Elieson told her she wanted more time to talk to Justice Department officials about the situation.
The freshman senator says she didn’t support legalization of pot in Nevada but believes it is a states’ rights issue.
Tax proceeds from Nevada’s marijuana sales exceeded expectations in November, adding to already better-than-average figures from the four previous months of legal recreational pot sales, according to information released Monday.
The industry brought in more than $5.5 million in November, which includes a 15 percent wholesale tax for both medical and recreational pot, and a 10 percent excise tax on recreational weed sales, the Nevada Department of Taxation said. That’s down from about $5.8 million in October, but up from about $4.7 million in September, $4.8 million in August and $3.6 million in July for a total of about $24.6 million.
November’s figures for the 15 percent wholesale tax — which charges Nevada cultivation and production facilities for transporting the plant to local dispensaries — was more than $3.3 million, while the 10 percent excise tax was an all-time monthly high of about $2.1 million.
Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office projected an average of $5 million per month would be raised from the two tax sources from July 2017 to July 2019, resulting in a total of $120 million over that 24-month span. The projections estimated the first six months of recreational pot sales would bring significantly less than that average, though, counting on the final six months in 2019 to be the largest revenue raising.
State Sen. Tick Segerblom, who championed marijuana legislation, said he expected monthly tax revenue to exceed $10 million by 2019.
Per Nevada law, revenue from the wholesale tax is allocated to fund state and local government regulation of the industry, and what’s left is deposited into the Distributive School Account. Revenue from the excise tax is deposited into the Nevada Rainy Day Fund.
Editor’s note: Brian Greenspun, the CEO, publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun, has an ownership interest in Essence Cannabis Dispensary.
Nevada marijuana sales continue to soar well above the state’s projections, with dispensaries selling $33.4 million in marijuana and the state bringing in more than $5.5 million in taxes in November.
Sales dipped from October’s massive $38 million in sales, according to data released Monday by the Nevada Department on Taxation. But November’s totals were $11 million more than the state projected for the month.
The 10 percent retail excise tax brought in over $3.3 million for the month, down from $3.8 million in October. In the first five months of marijuana sales in Nevada, which started in July, that excise tax has brought in nearly $16 million. All of that revenue goes into the state’s rainy day fund.
State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said he is disappointed November sales couldn’t top October’s totals, but pointed to the month-over-month increase in the wholesale tax on cultivation as a sign of continued growth for the industry.
The 15 percent wholesale tax on cultivators generated $2.2 million in November compared to $2 million in October. That wholesale tax first pays for the regulatory costs of marijuana, and the remaining revenue goes into the state’s education budget.
“That’s growth,” said Segerblom, one of the driving forces behind marijuana legalization in Nevada. “That tells me there’s more product being produced, which can ultimately lead to more sales.”
That tax has generated more than $8.6 million since recreational sales kicked off July 1, and the state forecasts it will bring in over $56 million in revenue over the first two years of recreational sales.
The wholesale tax generated more than $974,000 in tax revenue in July, the first month Nevada dispensaries sold recreational marijuana. The monthly average wholesale tax revenue Nevada drew in between July 2016 and June 2017, before recreational sales began, was $309,514.
As the Elko City Council prepares for action on an ordinance banning marijuana shops in Elko, West Wendover is awaiting state action to clear the way for a medical marijuana dispensary that would be the only one in Elko County.
“The closest one at this point is Ely. There is nothing in the northeastern part of the state,” said West Wendover City Manager Chris Melville.
West Wendover also is ready to act once the state approves applications for a cannabis cultivation and production facility, but Wells is looking at a cultivation and production operation as well, so there could be two cities in the county where marijuana is grown and processed.
The Elko City Council meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday, and plans a first reading of a zoning ordinance amended to prohibit any marijuana establishments within the city. The council decided at its Jan. 9 meeting to act on the proposed ordinance after rejecting Elko Planning Commission’s recommendation to drop the amendment.
The planners thought the city’s regulations for business licenses that require businesses to be in compliance with federal laws would be enough to block marijuana shops in the city. Marijuana is not legal at the federal level.
Prior to the vote on the ordinance the council will consider a resolution proposed by Councilman John Patrick Rice calling for a four-year moratorium on issuing business licenses for marijuana establishments, both medical and recreational. A current moratorium on selling marijuana is due to expire in March.
Rice wants the new moratorium in lieu of amending the zoning ordinance.
The only other incorporated city in Elko County, Carlin, does not allow marijuana sales for medical or recreational purposes. Carlin City Manager David Jones said a marijuana moratorium is in place.
Incorporated cities can take their own action on marijuana, as can Native American reservations, but the rest of Elko County is not allowed to commercially grow or sell the plant.
Elko County Commissioners passed an ordinance last September prohibiting growing marijuana, producing marijuana products and dispensing pot in unincorporated areas of the county. Commissioners also rejected a request last fall from Jackpot to allow recreational marijuana sales in the unincorporated town that borders Idaho.
Wells City Manager Jolene Supp said the council voted at its last meeting to amend an earlier ordinance prohibiting marijuana to allow a facility for cultivation and production of marijuana in the city’s industrial park. The ordinance still must be drafted and go through two readings.
“The City of Wells will allow one entity,” she said.
There won’t be any dispensaries or pot shops in Wells, however, so people can’t buy marijuana in the city. The growing and production plant would sell wholesale to dispensaries and shops in Nevada.
West Wendover’s ordinance allows only one dispensary and for one cultivation facility, but the West Wendover City Council isn’t ready to allow recreational use, Melville said.
“The council as yet has not adopted recreational language,” he said, adding that the council voted at its Jan. 2 meeting to table any consideration of recreational use. “The majority of the council is not ready to go down that road.”
Melville said the timing to table the vote was good since the day after that meeting, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued instructions giving U.S. attorneys in each state the decision over whether to act on marijuana cases.
West Wendover had expected there to be a medical dispensary open by now, but the city’s earlier efforts were put on hold when the state’s new regulations took precedence.
“It was very confusing” while the city awaited communications from the state, Melville said.
Now, the Nevada Department of Taxation is looking at dispensary license applications that were submitted by a Dec. 4, 2017, deadline.
“The state hasn’t released who submitted,” Melville said, but he understands the state will rank and pre-approve license applicants for cities to make the final selection.
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He said he knows of at least one applicant that filled out city forms to include with the application. That company is Deep Roots Harvest, which had already filed a full plan with the city for a dispensary and growing facility.
If the state approves Deep Roots, and the council selects that company, “there won’t be much of a process to issue a business license,” Melville said.
Deep Roots had earlier said that if it operated a store, growing facility and production plant in West Wendover, the company would have roughly 40 employees starting at $14 to $15 an hour, he said.
Other dispensary applicants could have submitted dispensary applications to the state without going through the city so West Wendover won’t know more until it hears from the state. Melville believes the state will act by early February.
The applications to the state for licenses to operate cultivation and production facilities had a later deadline of Jan. 2-16, and the cities may not know all the names of all the applicants.
Supp said two applicants asked the city to send accompanying letters, but others may have submitted without the letters.
Since Wells hasn’t passed the ordinance allowing the production and growing facility yet, the city letters stated the amended ordinance should be in place by the time licenses are issued.
Melville said he knows of three entities that completed city forms to apply for a growing and production operation, but only one will be allowed in the city. Deep Roots is one of the cultivation applicants. That company has facilities in Mesquite that West Wendover council members toured last year.
Once West Wendover and Wells each choose a company for a cultivation and production operation, the companies will still need to submit plans and seek a business license.
“The state law is very clear. Business plans submitted can’t be predicated on illegal activities or sales to areas where it’s not legal,” Supp said.
The time of the city council meeting has been corrected from the original version of this article.
When Winston Churchill’s party lost an election in 1945, evicting him from the job of prime minister of Britain, his wife ventured that the defeat might be “a blessing in disguise.” He replied, “Well, at the moment, it’s certainly very well-disguised.”
For those who favor legalizing recreational and medical use of marijuana, there is plenty of bad news in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to reverse the Justice Department’s previous hands-off policy toward state experimentation. He ordered federal prosecutors “to enforce the laws enacted by Congress.” That directive poses a threat to cannabis growers, dispensaries, investors and users who had been operating under a permissive regime.
“This is going to create chaos in the dozens of states whose voters have chosen to regulate medical and adult use (of) marijuana rather than leaving it in the hands of criminals,” said Neill Franklin, executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, which favors legalization. The Drug Enforcement Administration could raid dispensaries that states have allowed, as it did under President George W. Bush and even under Barack Obama.
But the crackdown could amount to the last gasp of marijuana prohibition. The best way to get rid of laws that are generally unpopular and destructive is to enforce them stringently. By threatening an assault on a sector that has established itself across the country, Sessions has picked a fight he is bound to lose.
His policy puts him at odds with the 29 states (and the District of Columbia) that allow medical use of the drug. Together, they comprise nearly 60 percent of the U.S. population. His order is especially hostile to the eight states that have legalized recreational pot. They include Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts and California, which account for 20 percent of Americans.
It also creates conflict with many people in his own party. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said the shift contradicted the assurance Sessions had given him, and he threatened to block all Justice Department nominations in response.
Fellow GOP Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rand Paul of Kentucky objected. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California accused Sessions of a “profound misreading of the Constitution, which allows states, not the heavy-handed federal government, to determine such issues.”
Sessions is a prisoner of his immutable belief that “using drugs will destroy your life.” But the more than 100 million Americans who have consumed cannabis, and particularly the 35 million who enjoy it on a regular basis, know better. The attorney general seems intent on proving that you don’t have to be stoned to be detached from reality.
He is also inviting a backlash. Just hours after his announcement, the Vermont House of Representatives approved a bill to allow recreational use of cannabis, which the Senate had passed last year, and Republican Gov. Phil Scott supports the idea. This week, the New Hampshire House voted to legalize possession of small amounts of pot, though Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is opposed.
Illinois, which allows medical marijuana, could benefit. State Sen. Heather Steans, who had already introduced a bill to legalize recreational use, says, “What the attorney general did may be pushing states further.”
Rohrabacher thinks Sessions’ move will encourage Congress to foil him. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said she will introduce a bill to let states make their own choices on cannabis. She may find little opposition. Politico reported that it “could not find a single member of Congress who had issued a statement in support of Sessions’ actions.”
His mistake was to disturb a status quo that allowed members of Congress to accommodate public support for legalization without having to vote for it. Deference to state liberalization could be couched in terms of keeping the federal government from interfering with matters beyond its responsibilities — an approach that largely satisfied both Democrats and Republicans.
Sessions is forcing many members to choose between supporting prohibition of cannabis and siding with their own states and constituents. Given that two-thirds of Americans want to allow recreational weed, it’s not a shrewd strategy.
His position is more likely to boost support for legalization than to diminish it. That’s partly because he works for a president who is notably unpopular and partly because he himself has an approval rating of 24 percent. Legalization supporters could not ask for a more useful adversary.
They may lament Sessions’ ill-informed and punitive decision now. Someday, they may remember it as a blessing in disguise.
With the enactment of Proposition 64 in November, 2017; on January 1st of this year, California became the sixth state to allow sales of recreational marijuana; joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada.
Massachusetts will begin selling retail marijuana beginning July first. The state of Maine has approved the sale and use of recreational marijuana also, but there is no set date as of this writing to begin sales. The enactment of this state legislation by those states further continually proves that the majority of citizens in those states traditionally seek to “de-unify“ from the rest of the United States.
As pointed out by Chief Ken Corney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, “We are, of course, disappointed that the self-serving moneyed interests behind this marijuana business plan prevailed at the cost of public health, safety, and the wellbeing of our communities.”
The Proposition campaign, as reported in the Los Angeles Times Newspaper (Nov. 9, 2017), was passed with the financial support of liberal billionaires Sean Parker and the New York hedge fund billionaire George Soros; whom together raised close to $16 million, about 10 times the money brought in by those opposed to the legislation.
Among the opposition to the legislation was former Representative Patrick Kennedy, who stated, “It’s disappointing that big marijuana and their millions of out-of-state dollars were able to influence the outcome of this election. We will continue to hold this industry accountable, and raise the serious public health and safety issues that will certainly come in the wake of legalization.“
The California Law, Proposition 64, allows Californians who are 21 and older to possess, transport, buy and use up to an ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes and allow individuals to grow as many as six plants.
The measure also allows retail sales of marijuana and imposes a 15 percent tax.
Why have the citizens of these states approved the recreational sales and use of marijuana? It is all about economics my friends.
The marijuana market in the United States now stands at around $7 billion, and California alone will top this, with an expected sales figure to reach $7 billion in just a few years. California, as with the other states whom have legalized recreational sales and use of marijuana, are in dire need of revenue…the citizens recognized this, thus passage of the legislation. Marijuana is now a very lucrative business…investors are being lured into it at a rapid rate. But is there another reason for the enactment of this law? You bet!
Getting high is the other reason. The people in the states that have enacted such legislation are typically known for placing their emotions over their intellect…“if it feels good, do it!“
The legislation that is in effect in California, and the other states, is in direct defiance and opposition to federal laws concerning the drug. The federal drug law lists marijuana and its by-products (such as hash-hish) as a Schedule IV Drug, and the use, possession, distribution, and sales of the drug are illegal. Texas, along with the majority of states are in agreement and compliance with the federal statutes and their state laws echo this.
California, in recognizing that “getting high“ imposes certain problems however, such as their city and state police officers gearing up to address the Driving Under the Influence laws. But what are other major problems that exist for the enactment of the marijuana legislation?
Just yesterday I had a conversation with a colleague concerning the news of California law. We discussed the news on television concerning the stores selling marijuana and marijuana products. My colleague watched one news station that showed a store that “resembled a bakery,“ selling cookies, cup cakes, and other edibles along with the pure marijuana products. Although the law in California and the other states are explicit in applying to “adults at the age of 21 and over,“ we know that these edibles, such as the cookie and cupcakes, will draw children into the picture; to include some parents and other care-givers feeding the children the marijuana edible products. And, as with alcohol beverage, there will be adult persons buying marijuana and the associated products for our youth; and this reportedly has already been the case.
Despite the laws in effect, marijuana imposes many physical, psychological and societal problems. As most of you readers are aware, there is short term and long term affects of using the drug. To review, the short term affects are: short term memory problems, severe anxiety, having delusions and hallucinations, panic, loss of sense of personal identity, lowered reaction time, increased heart rate, increased risk of stroke, problems with coordination, (impairing safe driving or playing sports, sexual problems in males, and up to seven times more likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease than non-users.
The long term effects of using marijuana are: Decline in IQ (up to 8 points if prolonged use started in adolescent age), poor school performance and higher odds of dropping out of school, impaired thinking and ability to learn and perform complex tasks, complacency, lower life satisfaction, addiction, potential development of opiate abuse, relationship problems, antisocial behavior, financial difficulties, increased welfare dependence, and greater chances of being unemployed or not getting good jobs.
Having worked in the field of alcohol and other drug abuse and dependency programs for almost 40 years, I can attest to the effects of marijuana use as presented to you in the preceding paragraph; and most disturbingly to the family unit. There are many myths associated with cannabis. One such myth is that it is not addictive.
This is a myth that has been disproven over and over, despite it being listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-5), and although there are those that are in denial of it. I often talk about a person I encountered in our program while serving in the military as a Drug/Alcohol Control Officer. During a random urinalysis drug screen, this person tested positive for cannabis. While awaiting his discharge from service he was provided counseling services. He told me that he did not intend to stop smoking marijuana, even though his spouse was adamantly opposed to it.
This person’s addiction to cannabis was so intense, that upon discharge he left his wife and two young daughters and moved to the wilderness of Alaska, exclaiming to me “where I can grow and smoke pot in peace.“ Now, that is true dependency on the drug. I have many other stories of this nature that I could tell you, but this is not the time or place to do so; cases I not only worked in the military, but also as a chemical dependency program administrator for the State of Texas.
To those states who are “toying“ with the minds of their citizens in the enactment of recreational marijuana laws, I say, as my colleagues and I say so often, why approve another mind altering chemical substance with its subsequent problems when we already witness the devastating effects of another substance, ethyl alcohol; the abuse of such which has caused so much pain and suffering among the majority of Americans. But then, this is a problem that the Californians and the other states enacting such laws will have to deal with…all of the complications that ensue. I hope so very much that such legislation never comes to fruition in our state.
Happy “toking“ Californians! Until next time, Stay Healthy My Friends!
Attorney General Jeff Sessions this month rescinded several Obama-era directives that could bring the end to legalized marijuana sales in Nevada and a number of other states. In doing so, experts say, Sessions could become illegal marijuana dealers’ new best friend.
Illegal pot producers and sellers have found a champion in U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions: If Sessions gets his way, he could be refueling their business and refilling their bank accounts.
For Nevada, whose residents and visitors have produced an estimated 1 million unique legal purchases since the recreation program began July 1, a possible Sessions-inspired crackdown on legal dispensaries means losing revenue brought into state coffers. It also means a re-emergence of illegal dealers as the only option for pot consumers, said Riana Durrett, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association.
“Lots of money is being made by (black market dealers),” Durrett said. “And they’d make even more without our legal industry.”
While the dispensary association, the Nevada Department of Taxation and Metro Police don’t have concrete numbers on black market sales, a 2015 White House report estimated 40 percent of the $100 billion Americans spend on illegal drugs each year was used on weed.
The illegal operations benefit from criminal drug trade from as close as Humboldt County or as far as Mexico. Farmers in the cartel-heavy Sinaloa state told The Washington Post in 2014 that legalization of pot in the U.S. made growing and shipping illegal marijuana “not worth it,” as wholesale prices fell from about $45 per pound to less than $12.
The FBI said the seizure of marijuana at the U.S. border with Mexico dropped to a four-year low of 1.5 million pounds in 2016, falling to nearly a third of the peak of 3.8 million pounds seized in 2009.
A possible federal crackdown presents another risk to Nevada buyers in the safety of both the buying experience and the quality product. Instead of shopping for highly regulated and tested marijuana products from licensed dispensaries, pot purchases would again come from the street corner, nightclub or a local dealer’s residence or vehicle.
Illegal pot is also free of state-mandated laboratory testing, meaning the quality is unpredictable.
“Even many black-market buyers moved to the legal industry because the marijuana is tested,” Durrett said.
An illegal dealer we will call “Joe” is one such Las Vegan who could benefit from a federal marijuana crackdown. Joe was once a thriving black market entrepreneur who distributed dozens of marijuana bags a week from the northwest valley to locals and tourists alike.
Operating on digital marketplaces from Craigslist to Instagram, Whisper and even gay dating app Grindr to market his product, he also thrived by word of mouth for local buyers.
Joe, 28, declined to say whether he had ties to any gangs, but he offered that gangs, marijuana and cartel connections are “usually one in the same.”
“If you market it the right way and get that exposure, you can do well,” Joe said. “It was a good life.”
Joe’s clientele slipped from nearly 30 to single digits in July 2017 when recreational marijuana sales began in Nevada. His income has decreased so drastically that he has recently started looking for a part-time job.
While weed is legal in many states now, including Nevada, federal law still considers it a crime.
Sessions on Jan. 4 rescinded Obama-era Department of Justice rules that protected states’ rights to operate legal weed industries under conditions that marijuana wouldn’t fall into the hands of minors, criminals and those driving motor vehicles.
Now, DOJ officials have one less obstacle in their way of shutting down legal marijuana. Sessions in a Jan. 4 letter to U.S. attorneys in pot-legal states directed them to follow pre-Obama-era policy to prosecute laws regarding marijuana, which he described as “a dangerous drug.”
Sessions’ directive in Nevada falls in the hands of interim U.S. Attorney Dayle Elieson, who was appointed on Jan. 5 to replace interim U.S. Attorney Stephen Myhre. Elieson’s office declined comment through a spokeswoman.
Another Las Vegas area black market pot dealer said he hoped new marijuana users who tried pot while it was legal in Nevada could mean additional clientele for his illegal businesses. That’s adding to the former customers he’d also expect to return.
In the event of a federal crackdown the dealer said, “I’d let (customers) know I’m still around. They know where to find me.”
Both illegal dealers indicated they sold most flower at $30 to $50 per eighth of an ounce. They said they would not expect their prices to change. Most dispensaries offer recreational eighths from $45 to $70 after tax.
UNLV law professor David Orentlicher, who has studied marijuana law for more than a decade, said in the most likely scenario federal agents would first shut down state-sanctioned recreational marijuana outlets before going after medical marijuana businesses. Either scenario would help the black market re-emerge as a primary source for pot buyers, he said.
“A lot will depend on how aggressive the feds are and whether they choose to prosecute large-scale,” Orentlicher said. “But there’s clearly going to be a change.”
Special Agent Melvin Patterson of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said raids of marijuana businesses would include a detailed process of conducting a background check on owners, running surveillance videos at their businesses and homes and obtaining a search warrant. With enough probable cause, federal agents would then raid the marijuana facilities, seize the inventory and arrest those involved in the business.
But DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno added any prospective federal raids “will take a while to sort out.”
If and when that happens, cartels, gangs and dealers — not regulated dispensaries — will be Nevada’s source for marijuana.
“I just hope I have enough for everybody coming back,” Joe said.
Editor’s note: Brian Greenspun, the CEO, publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun, has an ownership interest in Essence Cannabis Dispensary.
RENO, Nev. — Linda Honey offers her palms and shrugs.
“It’s just a convoluted mess,” said Honey, co-owner of Timely Testing, a drug and alcohol testing company that started in Northern Nevada and later branched down to Las Vegas.
Honey, sitting inside the Timely Testing headquarters in south Reno, is referring to two recent changes:
1. The legalization of marijuana in Nevada taking effect Jan. 1, 2017, with recreational pot sales rolling out in July.
2. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in light of the opioid crisis, expanding the drug-testing panel for federally regulated organizations to include four synthetic opioids, which took effect Jan. 1, 2018.
Both changes, Honey said, can bring complex wrinkles to Nevada employers’ goals of a drug-free workplace.
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Drug-testing companies like Timely Testing, however, are striving to help smooth things out for employers.
“We do three main things,” Honey said. “We do the drug testing, we do training for employers, such as up-to-date reasonable suspicion training, and we also do policy review.”
The Reno-based outfit is also mobile, which Honey said is the “greatest benefit” they hear from clients. For example, if an employee has been in an accident or is suspected of being under the influence, a company like Timely Testing will send a certified and trained collector to the job site, perform the test and leave, ultimately sending the test to a certified laboratory.
“No employer is having to spend time loading someone up into a car, taking them into a clinic and waiting,” Honey said.
In other words, mobile drug and alcohol testing services save employers time and, in turn, save them money, she said.
Drug positivity spike
And drug and alcohol testing companies throughout the country are busier than ever.
After all, American workers are testing positive for drug use — marijuana, cocaine, amphetamine/methamphetamine, PCP and opiates — at the highest rate in 12 years, according to the most recent report from Quest Diagnostics, the renowned Fortune 500 New Jersey-based company that provides clinical laboratory services.
Timely Testing CEO Nicole Nance said its business has increased revenue totals by 35 percent in 2017.
“We attribute the growth to the changing needs of the alcohol and drug testing industry, and the employer’s desire to maintain a safe and protected workplace,” Nance said in an email to NNBW.
All told, an analysis of more than 10 million workforce drug tests in 2016 found positive results from urine samples increase from 4 percent in 2015 to 4.2 percent in 2016.
Moreover, positive test results for marijuana use are climbing in safety-sensitive jobs — such as pilots and truck drivers — that require federally regulated testing and in the general workforce, according to the Quest study.
In fact, positive marijuana tests surged about 75 percent in the United States over the last four years — jumping from 5.1 percent in 2013 to 8.9 percent in 2016.
Melissa Davies, president of Northern Nevada Human Resources Association, said that is why the NNHRA’s main goal is to provide resources to the HR community on how to handle “this new world that we’re living in.”
With that, formulating policies is a challenge, especially when factoring in a company’s varying job duties.
“How they handle if they do a test would be subject to a number of things,” Davies said. “Something done for a machine operator is going to be different from a policy of an administrative assistant.”
Added Honey: “I think that it’s super important that employers have their workplace drug policies reviewed and updated — things are changing.”
Speaking specifically to marijuana, Honey said the policies need to reflect that the use and possession of marijuana on work premises or while on duty is prohibited.
The marijuana effect
This, however, begs the question: Is there a rise in Northern Nevada employers completely taking pot off their drug test panel?
One employer who spoke with the NNBW said they have.
“We took that (marijuana) pre-employment test off because we saw where Nevada was going, we saw where America was going,” said Eldorado Resorts Inc. CEO Gary Carano. “Times have changed, like it or not. So that’s how we addressed it.”
“But,” Carano continued, “whether it’s marijuana or any type of drug or alcohol, if you’re impaired and found to be impaired in the workplace, you’re going to be tested.”
For comparison sake, when asked if the legalization of marijuana has impacted their drug testing policy, a representative with Atlantis Casino Resort Spa told the NNBW via email that they “continue to support a drug-free workplace policy.”
Meanwhile, an employer like the University of Nevada, Reno, falls under federal law when it comes to drug testing policy.
“A thing that makes us a bit different is we, because of the large amount of federal grants, have to conform with the federal drug-free workplace policy,” said Tim McFarling, associate vice president of human resources at UNR.
Fact is, Honey said her company hasn’t seen any sweeping changes throughout the Silver State when it comes to marijuana drug testing — at least not yet.
“We have hundreds of clients statewide, and we have one employer in the whole state that removed marijuana from their panel,” said Honey, raising her index finger. “One.”
Visit bit.ly/2Dfw4bI to read the full Quest Diagnostics report, “Increases in Illicit Drugs, Including Cocaine, Drive Workforce Drug Positivity to Highest Rate in 12 Years.”
West Hollywood, Calif., and Tybee Island, Ga.—West Hollywood is painted with rainbow flags. Known as “The Creative City,” this counterculture hub is set in rolling hills, thrumming with thrift stores, vegetarian restaurants, and, since Jan. 1, four dispensaries selling recreational cannabis.
The most populous state in the union, with 39 million people, started allowing legal recreational pot sales three days before the Justice Department threatened to step up enforcement of federal prohibition.
As people waiting in a line outside West Hollywood’s MedMen brush off a rainstorm, Iain McDonald, an actor and Lyft driver from Australia, says he’s puzzled by what he sees as a “war on California.” “When they say state vs. federal – as an outsider – that doesn’t feel right,” he says. “The other countries I know would try to work with their states, not fight them.”
On America’s other coast, at the eastern terminus of historic Route 80, the Tybee Island Lighthouse throws shafts of light into a foggy night as war veterans gather at American Legion Post 154.
The post commander, Chuck Bolen, Jr., a Vietnam War veteran, leads a group of vets mostly living the retired life, who largely voted for President Trump.
But when asked about the American Legion begging Congress to deregulate marijuana to possibly help soldiers in pain, Mr. Bolen shrugs in agreement. In his experience, he says, weed is not a gateway to harsher drugs, but a potential “exit drug” for veterans addicted to opioid pain medications.
To the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, both the Australian actor and the Georgia veteran are wrong. In 2016, Mr. Sessions, then an Alabama senator, urged Congress to acknowledge that “this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it’s not something to laugh about … and [Congress should] send that message with clarity that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
The decision by Sessions on Jan. 4 to rescind an Obama-era memo that allowed states to decide for themselves whether to legalize marijuana is in many ways a direct challenge to federalism. It also may hasten a showdown in Congress, which is under growing pressure to allow states alone to either regulate or prohibit the plant.
The X factor is whether the disparate groups pushing for federal marijuana deregulation – from pot growers in Texas to legionnaires on the Georgia coast – can see eye to eye long enough to force Congress’ hand on a prohibition that goes back to the 1930s and was enshrined in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
Either way, the heated power struggle represents, law experts say, a monumental moment for states’ rights in America and a major rethink of core values by Republican powerbrokers.
“I’ve seen stories on, ‘Congratulations, Jeff Sessions, you just hastened marijuana legalization,’ ” says University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin, co-author of “Cooperative Federalism and Marijuana Regulation,” a UCLA Law Review article. “That may be wishful thinking. But the conversation is happening now.”
A year after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, then-assistant attorney general James Cole formalized the Obama White House position in the so-called “Cole memo,” which offered a semblance of certainty to states rejecting the federal prohibition of the substance. Sessions scrapped that direction, giving broader latitude to enforce federal law back to the 93 US attorneys.
Then Deputy Attorney General James Cole testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 10, 2013, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled; ‘Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.’
Former US attorney Barbara McQuade notes in a Monitor interview that some US attorneys may go the “extreme” route to target growers, dispensers, and even users. Several US attorneys have signaled they are not likely to interfere with activities that the states are regulating and taxing. But the US attorney in Massachusetts, for example, has refused to signal his intent, which could complicate a summer deadline to allow recreational sales, passed by voter referendum.
Sessions’s move sent stock valuations plummeting in what has, in five years, become a multibillion dollar industry, with markets open or opening from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine. Twenty-nine states now regulate legal sales of medical marijuana, eight of which also offer it for recreational use. It is now also legal for Americans to possess – though not buy – recreational marijuana in Washington, D.C.
“Until last week, a venture capital investor could say, ‘Hey, all of the momentum is on the side of more and more [marijuana] markets opening,’ but now their business lawyer has to say, ‘It looks like the federal government is going to muck up the works – rocky times ahead,’ ” says Doug Berman, a constitutional law professor at the Moritz School of Law, at Ohio State University.
Politically and culturally, Mr. Berman adds, the policy shift allows Americans worried about long-term health and societal impacts of state-regulated marijuana to urge caution. “Now that the federal government shows it is committed to enforcing prohibition,” he says, “it is all the more reason [for them] to take a slow approach.”
Kevin Sabet, head of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group, praised the Sessions announcement. “This is a good day for public health,” he said in a statement at the time. “The days of safe harbor for multi-million dollar pot investments are over.” The former Obama Administration drug policy adviser added, “DOJ’s move will slow down the rise of Big Marijuana…. Investor, banker, funder beware.”
States meanwhile, are pushing back. Attorneys general from 20 states wrote to congressional leaders Tuesday seeking an expansion of banking options for businesses in the legal marijuana trade.
‘Evolution of thought’ on both sides of aisle
The Trump administration is also facing pushback from its own party.
Republican congressmen such as California’s Duncan Hunter, Alaska’s Don Young, and Florida’s Matt Gaetz see Sessions’s move as an attack on voting majorities in their states, who voted to legalize.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R) did not support legalization in Colorado in 2012, but is now defending what has grown into a billion dollar a year industry in his state. He emerged from a meeting with Sessions last week saying a congressional showdown on prohibition seems imminent. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont noted that the stance may play into a January deadline to reauthorize a 2014 law that directed the DOJ to not interfere with medical marijuana regulators in the states.
Rep. Tom Garrett, a Virginia Republican, is part of a shift in thought that could move the country fundamentally. He has introduced SR 1227, which would remove marijuana out of the Controlled Substances Act, which would wash Washington’s hands of weed. He predicts it would win an up-or-down vote in the House today, were leadership to allow his bill to the floor.
“The first time I ever heard the term ‘medical marijuana’ I probably laughed,” acknowledges Representative Garrett, a former assistant attorney general in Virginia.
But he says that an “interminable” queue through his office of veterans, parents, and other Americans pleading for deregulation has, for him, helped shape a deeper rethink of the constitutional implications of pot prohibition. It took a constitutional amendment to justify banning alcohol, during the Prohibition era, which lasted for a decade.
He says most Americans have become persuaded that states are able to competently regulate marijuana as they do other potentially hazardous drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.
Noting that he does not care whether marijuana is legal in California or illegal in Alabama, Garrett says, “My problem, especially as a former [assistant attorney general], is that I find nothing in our foundational documentation or in concept that would give the federal government purview over a plant which, if left to its own devices, would grow naturally in all 50 states.”
“We are in a paradigm where people go to federal prison for the same exact activity that would make them a candidate for entrepreneur of the year depending on which state they are in,” he continues. “Justice that is not blind is by definition also not justice. If I was languishing in federal prison on a marijuana charge – and that still happens today – I would be very bitter.”
In that light, he says, he has taken Sessions up on his challenge to fix the law instead of questioning rule-of-law. The ensuing debate “is a great thing from a philosophical standpoint, [signifying an] evolution of thought on both sides of the aisle. That’s good for us as a nation.”
In fact, Gallup reported earlier this month that for the first time just over half of all Republicans, 51 percent, support legalization of recreational marijuana. Ninety-four percent of Americans support medical marijuana as prescribed by a doctor, according to a 2017 Quinnipiac Poll.
In Nevada, state Sen. Tick Segerblom says there would be “riots in the streets” if federal agents began prosecuting a nascent industry that already employs 7,000 people.
“Republicans are running away from [marijuana prohibition] because if you were to run as an anti-marijuana candidate in Nevada today, there’s only one possible outcome: You would lose,” says Mr. Segerblom.
Long-time cultural antipathy for the intoxicant is shifting even in the deepest of red states, observers note.
In Georgia, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, never a pro-marijuana advocate, signed a law in 2015 that legalized the use of cannabis extracts for a handful of childhood illnesses, including the relief of epileptic seizures. The Alabama legislature in 2016 passed Leni’s Law, which decriminalized the drug for limited medical purposes.
And this month, Schulenburg, Texas, the home of the Texas Polka Music Museum, will watch as a newly-licensed farm and dispensary begins selling low-THC compounds to consumers, marking the first entrée of legal marijuana in a state defined both by its social conservatism and its staunch defense of states’ rights.
In part, says Mike Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center, that marijuana legalization is taking root even in red state America is an acknowledgement that federal prohibition evokes “no sense of liberty, no sense of what the people want.”
‘We’re neck deep in this’
For Mr. Bolen, the Tybee Island legionnaire, a few joints smoked in the 1970s constitutes the extent of his personal experience. But classifying marijuana as a substance with no medical benefits runs counter to his assessment of the needs of a new generation of Afghan and Iraq war veterans struggling with opioid addiction, suicidal thoughts, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
That sense of American veterans being denied a treatment is why “what Sessions is doing, well, I don’t like it,” Bolen says. This week, the United States Department of Veterans once again said, given the federal prohibition, it cannot research any potential medical benefits.
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But momentum toward legalization may be difficult to reverse, even for the federal government, says Daniel Yi, communications chief for West Hollywood’s MedMen.
“I mean, think about this: You can travel the whole western United States now and buy pot,” says Mr. Yi. “And by this summer you can do that all the way to Vancouver because Canada is going to legalize marijuana under federal law. We are not knee deep in this – we’re neck deep in this.”
Nevada marijuana growers are displeased with the state’s updated regulations, Congress members counter the DEA’s view of CBD, and New York may take a look at recreational cannabis.
Here’s a closer look at some notable developments in the marijuana industry over the past week.
Direct sales in Nevada
As Nevada finalizes the rules for its recreational cannabis program, cultivators who are licensed only to grow are pushing to be allowed to sell marijuana directly to customers.
Essentially, businesses that possess just grow licenses say the state’s vertically integrated companies have an advantage.
Some growers want the ability to sell their cannabis directly to customers, much like vineyards can sell wine from the same location where the grapes are grown.
However, that contradicts the intention of the law that Nevada voters passed to legalize cannabis, according to one industry watcher.
Joe Brezny, a cannabis consultant for Parallax Strategies in Las Vegas, said voters clearly expressed in passing the law were opposed to an abundance of cannabis retail stores.
In short, they didn’t want more marijuana shops than coffee shops.
Brezny, one of the main advocates of the legalization campaign, believes businesses that just want to grow cannabis “should be able to make it” financially.
He said he hasn’t visited a successful retail store that pushes only its products.
Brezny likened the situation to a traditional retail model where a store offers brand-name products as well as generic products or store-branded goods.
“Not everyone wants to buy the store-branded products,” he added, “even though they’re the same except for the advertising.”
Another option for a grower, he said, is to partner with an established brand of, say, infused products or vape cartridges and sell those products to dispensaries.
“I think there are a lot of scenarios where the stand-alone growers survive, can expand their business and capitalize on a lot of things that the vertically integrated companies just aren’t doing,” Brezny added.
More than two dozen members of Congress took a bold step in favor of the CBD and hemp industry when they asked a federal court to reject the Drug Enforcement Administration’s stance that CBD is an illegal drug.
One argument in the Congress members’ letter to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had the industry especially interested: Hemp can be sold across state lines.
In other words, Congress members who steered hemp into the 2014 Farm Bill had every intention of allowing hemp-derived products to be sold nationwide.
The hemp law “does not limit the ability to sell lawfully grown industrial hemp products only to states with agricultural pilot programs,” the brief states, quoting Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell.
That interpretation is crucial for the development of a nationwide hemp industry.
It means that, unlike marijuana, hemp and hemp-derived CBD can be sold in any state and online.
“It’s very significant,” said Shawn Hauser, an attorney who specializes in hemp law for the Denver-based firm Vicente Sederberg. “For a business, it’s difficult to move forward when the DEA says your business is illegal.
“This is an affirmation from Congress that selling hemp across state lines is not illegal.”
Rec rush in Empire State?
New York’s governor wants state lawmakers to study the feasibility of starting a recreational marijuana program.
Pop the corks, because adult use is right around the corner in the Empire State, right?
Not so fast.
While it’s certainly a welcome step, at least one prominent New York medical marijuana executive cautions there is much reason to question Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to recreational cannabis.
Given his past statements about cannabis, Cuomo is not someone to take the lead on recreational marijuana legalization and will likely have to be pushed into it, said Jeremy Unruh, director of government affairs at PharmaCann, one of New York’s MMJ companies.
“I do wonder how legitimate or meaningful it is, or if it’s simply a political response to try and undercut a potential opponent,” Unruh said.
“Setting up a panel looks good to voters, but it buys him time.”
Unruh noted that Cuomo made the announcement shortly after a Republican challenger for his seat as governor announced he wanted to legalize recreational marijuana and use the tax proceeds to pay for transportation improvements.
In addition to the political challenge, Cuomo may feel pressure to move on recreational legalization because of adult-use advances in three states that border New York – Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont.
But will it be enough to get Cuomo to sign a rec bill, even if a study commission recommends it?
“Setting up a panel looks good to voters, and it buys him time,” Unruh said.
“But it doesn’t commit him. He can ignore or follow the recommendations of his panel.”
If New York does launch a recreational program, Unruh said, its potential success shouldn’t be measured by the struggles of the MMJ program, which prohibits dried flower and is perceived as expensive.
“The medical program was meant to be very restrictive, that was the intention,” Unruh said.
“With an adult-use program, you’re making it a consumer product – taxed and regulated like alcohol. I think the way the law will be written will lend to that type of regulatory structure, almost like alcohol.”