CARSON CITY, Nev. — Will Adler started out in the cannabis industry in 2013 as an advocate for medical marijuana in Nevada.
Five years later, the Carson City native and director of the Sierra Cannabis Coalition has seen a lot change in the Silver State’s marijuana space.
From Nevada lawmakers authorizing medical marijuana dispensaries in 2013 to Nevada voters legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016, Adler has been actively representing the cannabis industry. He even ran the Northern Nevada region of the Question 2 campaign to legalize recreational marijuana.
“Go back to 2015 and 2016 for the vote, marijuana was like a pariah,” Adler told the Northern Nevada Business View. “You came into a room with other elected officials and people had their hands up, like, ‘I don’t want to touch the marijuana guy, or talk to him or be associated with him directly.’
“So marijuana has come a really long way.”
With the one-year anniversary of legal cannabis in Nevada upon us, the NNBV sat down with Adler recently to talk about the past, present and future of the cannabis industry in Nevada.
Question: Unlike most states that have legalized recreational marijuana, Nevada implemented its program in only six months. How?
Adler: No state has actually done this where they regulated recreational marijuana in less than a year. Everyone slow-walks this thing. But Nevada had their medical marijuana program open, and it’s the gold standard already. We really didn’t have to change much for recreational. In all honesty, we already had such a high regulatory threshold in the medical marijuana industry; the operators were already there to service the recreational market. Because we set standards where are marijuana is tested to a pharmaceutical grade.
Question: Are you surprised that 97 percent of the state’s projected marijuana tax revenues have already been raked in with three months to go (as of March 2018)?
Adler: You don’t want to project tax revenue of an unknown source too high. I’m pretty sure that (the Nevada Department of Taxation) had projections that showed about where we’re at now. The sales look to be these record-book sales because we’re above our projections. I think they’re actually about right where I thought they’d be. It does give us this great headline of, “we’re successful, we’re doing great …”
Adler: Not everyone’s a millionaire in this industry. Not a lot of people had these breakout successes. There’s a presumption that if you’ve got a dispensary, you did it, you’re going to make it in this marijuana rush. Every alley through marijuana has a lot of burdens to being a successful business, more so than almost any other business. There are accountability security requirements; testing requirements; every employee has to pass a full criminal background check. In addition, marijuana does not have direct access to banking.
Marijuana is the most regulated business in Nevada, without a doubt. If you don’t have accountability, data streams in line, you can get in a ton of trouble in this industry. And it’s your fault as the owner of that license. The state of Nevada is not going to cover your back — it’s on you. Knowing all of that, looking back, I’m amazed at how successful some people have been.
Question: What is the biggest opportunity for the marijuana industry in Northern Nevada?
Adler: If I were to change something legislatively, it would probably be to the tune of streamlining some of the stuff we have. Basically anything that makes it smoother to operate, I’d be in support of. If that’s at the expense of safety and security? No, I’m not in support of that. At the end of the day, you don’t know what needs to be changed until you have some time to look back on it. I’m sure a lot of operators have a list. But you’ve got to balance it between … OK, it’s hard to do, but it’s probably for security and safety.
Question: Do you think Nevada should make it easier and safer for tourists to use recreational marijuana?
Adler: Yes, we should have social clubs or something to make it easier for tourists to use it. We’re not there yet. You’ve got to buy it at a dispensary, and you’re not allowed to use it on casino property and hotels. How do we use marijuana in Nevada like we do everything else? How do we provide it to the public of a tourism economy? Is it an Amsterdam coffee shop model? I don’t know. Is it a social club or nightclub where they can use them? I don’t know. That needs to be vetted.
Question: What is the future of the cannabis industry in Nevada?
Adler: I see more normalizing marijuana happening. I do see steady growth because it’s normalizing. I think we will get a little bit better tourism economy going around it, but this is the market we have right now. We’re the No. 1 state for alcohol consumption per capita; marijuana has a lot of room to grow.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.