In November 2016, both California and Nevada voters passed marijuana industry-written initiatives legalizing commercial pot. In both states, a one-year period was provided for state governments to develop their recreational marijuana program, including drafting comprehensive regulations.
Nevada politicians and the marijuana industry entered into an unholy alliance to heedlessly rush the process with an “Early Start” program, advancing the “first sale” date to July 1, 2017. California officials, citing the myriad complexities of legalization, including the fundamental conflict with federal law, prudently adhered to the Jan. 1, 2018 “first sale” deadline.
In both states, the initiatives permit individuals to carry up to an ounce of marijuana and consume it in private. The initiatives give local governments full authority to regulate or ban most other marijuana activity in their jurisdictions. In Nevada, the largest cities — Las Vegas, Henderson, Reno and North Las Vegas — have approved licensing of commercial marijuana establishments. Only a limited number of jurisdictions, most notably Douglas and Elko Counties, have banned commercial marijuana businesses.
There has been far greater resistance in California to commercial marijuana businesses locating in local communities. While large California cities — Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Diego, San Jose and Fresno — have approved commercial marijuana, the vast majority of jurisdictions in the state have banned recreational pot shops.
In Los Angeles County, 86 of the 88 cities don’t allow recreational pot sales, with a ban in unincorporated areas as well. In affluent Marin County, once the capital of cannabis hipsterism and where “legalization” passed overwhelmingly, all 11 municipalities slammed the door on commercial marijuana as well as there being a prohibition in unincorporated Marin. Compton voters in January, 2018 soundly rejected pot businesses in their city by more than a 3-1 margin.
While voters might sympathize with marijuana “legalization,” it’s totally unsurprising no one wants to live near a pot shop or have pot candies sold near their schools. People don’t want to see and smell pot in their own community.
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Riverside, Calif., voted to “legalize” marijuana in November 2016, while Carson City voters opposed legalization. Yet the Riverside City Council in March 2018 approved an expansive ban on marijuana-related activities. In contrast, Carson City’s Board of Supervisors voted in July 2017 to approve recreational commercial establishments.
City officials in Riverside conducted an extensive “due diligence” study to evaluate the consequences of marijuana commercialization. A delegation of city officials, including council members, Riverside school district representatives, a police captain and an assistant city attorney, traveled to Denver and then gave a three-hour public presentation on the effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado.
Two Denver police officials came to Riverside and testified police resources devoted to marijuana increased markedly since legalization and Colorado had seen a large increase in the illegal market.
Carson City undertook no similar “due diligence” inquiry. Mayor Bob Crowell is depicted as a “retired partner … available for consultation to the firm” on the Kaempfer Crowell website. This law firm advertises an eight lawyer “Cannabis Team” that “assists clients with the filing of applications for dispensaries, cultivation and production establishments at the state and local level.” A ninth cannabis lawyer, Deonne Contine, Nevada’s then-marijuana regulator, was added to the firm in January.
While Crowell “disclosed” his law firm association, he didn’t “recuse” himself from voting on marijuana issues. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 upheld the Nevada Ethics in Government Law requiring government officials to recuse themselves where there’s a conflict of interest.
A respected attorney with a long history of public service, Crowell’s pivotal vote for Carson’s marijuana commercialization leaves the unfortunate appearance of being the result of his conflict of interest.
Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa.