Carson City going to pot, medicinally

Carson City business is going to pot, entering an era of wholesale and retail medicinal marijuana sales.

City government zoning and oversight will allow two medical marijuana dispensaries and more pot supply facilities despite a last-minute bid Thursday night to allow just one dispensary, which failed.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to adopt an ordinance on local regulation after spurning an attempt by the lone dissenter to slow the process and alter the zoning plan so just one dispensary would be allowed at first, a second in six months and cultivation or production facilities later. Supervisor Jim Shirk, the dissenter, had proposed that late change despite voting for the ordinance two weeks ago in the preliminary round.

Timing and co-location opportunities were among the reasons cited by other board members for voting down his idea, also on a 4-1 tally. He had received a second for his motion from Supervisor John McKenna, who said that second was so it could be discussed. Supervisor Karen Abowd said her concern was with safety if only one dispensary was authorized.

“I do have an issue with that,” she said, noting co-locating medical marijuana establishments of more than one kind would make them easier to monitor and police. She and Supervisor Brad Bonkowski also addressed Shirk’s lament that an unlimited number of cultivation or edible production facilities meant there could be two, 22 or 220. Both said the law of supply and demand would keep the number in check.

Mayor Robert Crowell and Bonkowski talked of the timing problem, noting an ordinance needs to be in place so prospective medicinal pot establishment business owners can apply to the state during a 10-day window beginning Aug. 5. Shirk’s proposal would take at least until Aug. 7 due to a requirement two more meetings be held before an altered ordinance could pass.

“I’m just not sure the logistics work at this late date,” said Bonkowski.

McKenna, meanwhile, said the issue before the board was about zoning businesses legally authorized by the state. He indicated it wasn’t about re-arguing the morality or wisdom of the state’s legal framework. Much of the regulatory oversight will come from the state, but zoning, business licenses and the like are local concerns.

Shirk, for his part, acknowledged he was moving away from his previous position because of concern over the lack of limits he cited. He said he knows marijuana can help people who need it as medicine, mentioning members of his own family had benefited, but added he wanted to move more slowly.

He also worried aloud Lyon and Douglas counties opting out of the state system will mean demand would be higher here and the no-limit ordinance on cultivation and production could become a problem.

“I think that’s a red flag,” he said. The number of dispensaries are held to just two in Carson City by both state law and the ordinance, but it’s the other facilities that particularly concerned him.

The ordinance allows dispensaries in general commercial zoning areas and other establishments in general industrial areas. That limits them to business and industrial areas mostly along Highway 50 East, though a dispensary could also go in general commercial areas along or near South Carson Street south of Moses Street. Setback requirements mirror state law.

At the beginning of the evening session, the mayor and Bonkowski said they would participate and be voting. They said the issue was general zoning patterns. Bonkowski is in commercial real estate, the mayor is a principal in a law firm. A couple of those testifying disagreed with that, prompting Bonkowski at one point to say he had checked and worked closely with state ethics officials to determine whether he had a conflict.

In other testimony, Bruce Kittes of Carson City urged city government caution. He said the matter he voted for as a Constitutional Amendment 14 years ago has moved into commercial status despite federal law still branding marijuana an illegal substance. He said the city should require a “hold harmless” agreement from medical marijuana establishments because state law ducks responsibility for any deleterious effects of marijuana.

Joe Ward, a Carson City deputy district attorney, said the city’s counsel didn’t recommend hold harmless language and the ordinance decision was discretionary.

Kittes, meanwhile, also questioned whether the state’s system through legislative amendments was still about helping those needing medical marijuana by letting them grow pot in their homes.

“It’s not about helping sick people,” he said.

Some others testifying disagreed. Chris Peternell of Carson City said he has a state-authorized medical marijuana card and has neither the time nor knowledge to grow his own pot at home. He said he uses marijuana as medicine for seizures. Julie Sutton of Carson City said she has a child who needs marijuana as medicine and growing it is difficult, especially when a particular strain might be required.

“This is medicine,” added Dorea Shoemaker of Incline Village.


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