Lovelock city leaders voted two to one to prohibit marijuana establishments in the community last week. As a result, Lovelock Legal Counsel Kent Maher is working on a draft city ordinance to “zone out” marijuana dispensaries and commercial pot cultivation from all city zoning districts.
The Pershing County Commission recently voted to prohibit marijuana establishments in unincorporated areas of the county. A county ordinance to zone out such businesses is being drafted by District Attorney Bryce Shields for consideration by the county commission.
Maher explained the city’s authority to prohibit marijuana facilities considered legal by the state.
“The legalization of it has already been decided. Reserved for local governments is the ability to say we don’t allow it in certain zoning classifications. That’s something you can do,” he said. “But that’s a separate question — licensing and regulation is one issue and zoning is a separate issue.”
The city action took place during a noon-time special meeting attended by few members of the public. During a previous city council meeting, the chamber was packed with more than 60 people, including both opponents and proponents of a proposed medical marijuana dispensary. Maher estimated the crowd’s testimony at about 60 percent against and 40 percent for the dispensary.
After about 30 minutes of discussion and little public comment last week, City Councilman Dan Murphy made the motion to prohibit pot businesses by zoning them out. City Council member Pat Rowe voted in favor of the action and City Councilman Tom Donaldson voted against it.
Before his motion to prohibit pot shops, Murphy explained his personal concerns, including the illegality of marijuana under federal law and the ongoing uncertainty over state pot tax regulations.
“The federal government still says it’s illegal and there’s problems with the collecting of money for it. It’s an experiment that maybe works out but I can’t get behind it,” he said. “I hope that, by taking this stance, Lovelock doesn’t lose out on some big pot of tax revenue — no pun intended.”
Rowe said she had personally talked to a number of residents opposed to the proposed dispensary and questioned if a medical marijuana dispensary could survive in Lovelock. There are about 23 medical marijuana cardholders in the city and county, according to the state.
After the meeting, Donaldson said a pot dispensary regulated by the city and state would not have increased the local drug problem. He’s more concerned about private pot growth and distribution.
“I don’t see any difference between this and alcohol or prescription drugs,” he said. “The argument is we’re going to overdose all of our kids and I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think minors have the same access (to marijuana) now. What does bother me is the potential that everybody in town can grow it. We have a problem anyway and, by not regulating it, I think it’s just going to make it worse.”
Nevada law allows private pot cultivation unless there’s dispensary within 25 miles. City Police Chief Michael Mancebo said marijuana was growing in Lovelock long before it was legalized.
He supported a marijuana dispensary with regulated products, sales and distribution. Without a dispensary, expert backyard cultivators can produce and distribute as much as six pounds of powerful marijuana from the six plants each adult is allowed to grow under state law, he said.
“There’s no way that person could smoke six pounds in a year, so where is that marijuana going to go?” Mancebo asked. “Is it going to be sold or given away? Where is it going to go? If there was a dispensary, people could not legally grow recreational marijuana in their backyard.”
The police chief said he hasn’t yet seen a surge in private pot cultivation in Lovelock since recreational marijuana was legalized last year. But, a dispensary could have offered safer alternatives to the unregulated, potentially harmful black market pot products on the streets.
“At least with a dispensary, it would have been regulated and you would know how much THC is in it. Sometimes you don’t know what it’s laced with or if it’s mixed with something,” Mancebo explained after the council meeting. “With a dispensary, you’d know what you are getting.”
While marijuana could become a problem, Mancebo said Lovelock has been impacted by the opioid crisis reported elsewhere across the country. He would prefer that doctors prescribe fewer drugs and especially much less of the opioid pain medications that can lead to heroin addiction.
“We’ve got a bigger problem with heroin and prescription pain meds than we do with marijuana,” he said. “We haven’t had any (opioid overdoses) yet. Knock on wood that we don’t. It’s been bad the last several years. Up until a few years ago, it was very rare and now heroin is probably bigger than methamphetamine. It’s cheaper and easier to find than the prescription painkillers.”