Guy Farmer: Cannabis Board vs. Gaming Control Board: No comparison

As a former spokesman for Nevada’s effective and respected gaming control agencies, I cringe every time Gov. Steve Sisolak compares his proposed Cannabis Board to the powerful Gaming Control Board, which has kept our state’s legal gambling industry clean for 60 years. And the Cannabis Board? Keep an eye on those guys.

According to the Associated Press, Sisolak “wants to create a Cannabis Compliance Board similar to the state commission that controls casino licensing.” Well Governor, that’s not going to happen because the marijuana industry, aka “Big Marijuana,” wrote the law your Cannabis Board would be charged with enforcing. Oh by the way, Big Marijuana donated big bucks to your gubernatorial campaign last year, so you’re not likely to bite the hand that feeds you.

The Cannabis Board is in the news because two Las Vegas businesses that were denied licenses to distribute so-called “recreational” marijuana have filed a lawsuit against the state Taxation Department claiming the department hired a temporary employment service to screen license applications. The AP reported that an attorney representing the rejected pot pushers claims it was a “gross disparity” when the Tax Department awarded 32 of 61 provisional licenses to only four entities last December.

Who owns these “entities?” Under pressure from the Nevada Press Association, Sisolak recently signed SB32, which makes public the names of owners, officers or board members of any company that applies for a state-issued marijuana business license. Those names are now public on the Tax Department’s website, and that’s a step in the right direction.

Some history: Former Tax Department Director Deonne Contine fast-tracked the commercialization of recreational marijuana in just six months in 2017 despite a lack of transparency and a woefully inadequate state licensing and enforcement structure with only four employees at the outset. Her mission accomplished, Contine then resigned to join a Las Vegas law firm’s nine-member “Cannabis Team” that represents marijuana industry clients. Sisolak just hired Contine as his director of administration. Hmmm.

Even though Sisolak compares his Cannabis Board to the Gaming Control Board, those of us who have worked in gaming control over the years find that comparison laughable and insulting to the scandal-free gaming controllers, who have enforced our gambling laws in a tough but fair manner since 1959, when newly-elected Gov. Grant Sawyer and the Legislature created our effective two-tier gaming control system.

As the spokesman for Sawyer’s “hang tough” gaming control policies in 1963, when we revoked singer Frank Sinatra’s gambling licenses for hosting Chicago crime boss Sam Giancana at North Lake Tahoe’s Cal-Neva Lodge, I’m offended by comparisons of Sisolak’s Cannabis Board to Sawyer’s Gaming Control Board, and so is highly respected columnist John L. Smith, a native Nevadan.

Writing in Jon Ralston’s Nevada Independent, Smith recently noted that “litigation filed against the Nevada Taxation Department raises the specter of potential scandal in the state’s issuing of new marijuana licenses, but I’ll go it one better. The scandal’s already here, and it’s not a close call.” Smith added that the Tax Department’s “lack of transparency insults the citizenry.” Amen!

The lawsuit filed against the Tax Department accuses it of basing the issuance of marijuana licenses on “arbitrary, irrelevant, vague, ambiguous, undisclosed and unpublished criteria.” So much for Nevada being the “gold standard” for marijuana regulation, as claimed by our fearless leaders.

Secrecy and conflicts of interest abound at state and local levels as elected officials cover up for the marijuana industry, and profit from it. So let’s keep a wary eye on Sisolak’s ill-defined Cannabis Board and stop comparing it to the Gaming Control Board.

Guy W. Farmer worked for Nevada’s gaming control agencies in the 1960s.


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