SPARKS — Fifteen years after Nevadans voted to legalize it, medical marijuana was sold legally in the state for the first time Friday at a dispensary in a strip mall about 5 miles east of downtown Reno.
Dressed in polo shirts, tie-dyes and button-downs, about 75 people with medical marijuana cards lined up outside Silver State Relief, between a sub shop and pizza place in Sparks, to be among the first to buy as much as a half-ounce of pot for $195.
“It smells good in there,” said Dana Metz, 64, a retired General Motors worker who said he suffers from back pain, insomnia and anxiety. He was the first in line two hours before the doors opened just after 10 a.m.
“Like a kid in a candy store,” Metz said with a smile as he emerged with a package of pre-rolled cigarettes. “It’s great. It’s clean. It’s very professional. Everything is labeled and the people are knowledgeable and very helpful.”
Unless the next Legislature takes action sooner, Nevadans will consider another ballot measure in 2016 to legalize recreational use of marijuana.
They approved medical pot in 2000, but the law lacked language to establish a system to sell or distribute the drug until 2013. Before that, anyone authorized had to grow their own — up to 12 plants per person — or find it some other way.
“The politicians just didn’t have the will to do what the people wanted,” said state Sen. Tick Segerblom, a major proponent of marijuana legislation. “Why the Legislature could not get behind this blows my mind.”
Zach Smith and his father were behind Metz in the dispensary waiting room with an electronic menu listing six strains of marijuana, including THC Snow, Purple Kush and Girl Scout Cookies. All start at $55 for one-eighth of an ounce and $105 for one-fourth.
“Now I have a safe place to go and get reliable medicine,” said Smith, who got his card seven months ago for chronic pain and cystic fibrosis. “I was taking Percocet and Vicodin. I started this and I haven’t been on any of my meds since.”
Nevada has already distributed many of its 66 marijuana dispensary licenses, but it’s not clear how soon Las Vegas or other parts of the state will see shops open.
The process was complicated when Clark County gave preliminary clearance to eight applicants, and the state later gave preliminary clearance to eight others. The state deferred to the county’s list, but the future of the state-approved entities is uncertain.
Nevada Medical Marijuana Association Executive Director Will Adler said Nevada’s strict rules — based on Colorado’s system — will stave off problems once dispensaries get off the ground and become a model for other states.
“We tried to write the law that would be the gold standard for the country,” he said.
Nevada’s rules include “seed-to-sale” tracking to trace marijuana to the source — a measure aimed at preventing black market marijuana from seeping into the system, or thieves from taking pot out. The Department of Agriculture also is working to finalize a pesticide testing process that screens for 30 to 40 different chemicals — the first such system in the nation.
Silver State Relief General Manager Aron Swan said Sparks officials were supportive from the beginning.
“I know they were expecting some pushback, but one of the things Sparks did right was to pick locations in industrial areas. There are no homes around here, no churches or parks. We’ve had zero pushback,” he said.
Swan said a young veteran with PSTD told him marijuana is “the only thing that gets him through the day.”
“It gets me choked up, a little teary eyed, and proud to be a part of this,” Swan said. “It’s not the stereotypical stoner with long hair and stinky. These are normal people who are using this as medicine.”