The business of pot: Use, safety concerns addressed at Tahoe forum | SierraSun.com

The business of pot: Use, safety concerns addressed at Tahoe forum

■ Margaret Moran | mmoran@sierrasun.com

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — When Incline Village's medical marijuana dispensary opens this spring, it will be a secure, law-abiding business that will be responsive to any resulting community issues or concerns.

That was the message emphasized by panelists at an Incline Business Network-hosted forum last Thursday, March 31, to discuss the impacts NuLeaf may have on the local business community.

"We have a very strict patient identification protocol," Sean Luse, NuLeaf Chief Operating Officer, said at the forum held at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe. "Nobody gets in unless they are a licensed patient, with their doctor's recommendation or their state ID card and their state issued identification — their driver's license or their ID.

"You just can't walk in and then we figure it out, sort it out. We figure it right at the door before you ever get in and gain access."

When asked by one of the roughly 60 audience members via an index card if that would result in a line of people waiting outside the dispensary, Luse said he doesn't anticipate that scenario.

He explained that a preliminary check will done at the door to ensure the individual is a valid patient, before he or she moves inside into a reception area — where no product is kept — for a more in-depth screening.

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"Our patient code of conduct … (includes) basic nuisance items like no loitering, no driving erratically or having a loud car stereo, no lingering on the sidewalk," Luse said. "We realize that our business and our patients are under a high level of scrutiny, and there is perhaps a concern or an expectation that maybe we are going to have a negative impact, so we really work hard to educate folks and make sure that they know what the rules are.

"If folks don't follow the rules, if they are creating a nuisance, if it's something egregious or can't be corrected with education, we blacklist them from the facility."

He added that Nevada law prohibits consumption of medical marijuana in public, especially in proximity of a dispensary — if the law is broken, it will be addressed by local law enforcement.

"Obviously, we still do have people that break the law, but we will address those issues just like we do now if we were to get a call of somebody utilizing or using marijuana on one of our beaches, in facilities or in the open," said Washoe County Sheriff's Office Lt. Jeff Clark. "It's no different when NuLeaf opens."

Security measures

NuLeaf plans to open the dispensary some time this May at 877 Tahoe Blvd., which is along the main drag through town.

The location is near several businesses, including Wildflower Café, Susie Scoops/Village Toys and Woodstove Distributors, and thus it's raised some security concerns.

"We have tracking and surveillance equipment," Luse said. "We use alarm systems that are monitored and report any breaches to law enforcement. We have surveillance equipment inside and out just to make sure that we know what's going on, what's happening. We've seen that be beneficial not just to our business and our security, but neighboring businesses."

Further, the medical marijuana will be kept under "lock and key" inside and only dispensed by trained staff, he said. Licensed security guards will also be on site.

"We, in law enforcement, are behind the fact that this is so well regulated and the fact that they care more about their product and money, then we do," said WCSO Lt. Eric Spratley, who helped write the law regarding medical marijuana dispensaries. "These places are really locked down. Every single facility in Washoe County that gets approved, comes across my desk. I make sure that the security plan is in line with the … code."

Once open, should the facility incite an "extraordinary use of resources" for WCSO, it's written into the law that law enforcement can bill the dispensary for the expense, he said.

"For the last 15 years we have started to become a data-driven law enforcement agency," Clark explained. "What that means is that every time that an officer either makes contact with a citizen on his own, or responds to call for service, that data is collected. All that data, in turn, is utilized, so that we can manage our resources.

"With (a) marijuana (dispensary) coming to our town, we're able to not only have the data from years past of how many marijuana calls or drug-related calls that we respond to, but we also look at drug overdoses and deaths and a lot of different statistics, so we will absolutely be able to measure without a doubt if this is impacting the community at least as far as crime and calls for service go."

'It is coming'

Another popular question raised during the March 31 forum — why place a dispensary in Incline?

"There is a community of medical marijuana patients in Incline Village and in the greater Tahoe Basin," Luse said. "It may not be as big of a population as the city of Reno, but as we all know, if you … are having a chemotherapy flare-up, you're having an issue, and it's a snow day, those patients aren't going to want to go up over the pass."

However, potential customers for the forthcoming Incline facility don't have to reside in Incline, or even the state of Nevada.

According to state law, nonresidents with valid medical marijuana card or other documentation qualifying purchase of the drug in their state of residence will be able to purchase it in Nevada, subject to the same limitations as Nevada residents.

Within the United States, 22 other states and Washington, D.C., allow the use of medical marijuana.

"(Medical marijuana) is not supposed to cross state lines, so they shouldn't be stocking up … to take back with them," Luse said. "That's not likely to happen anyway, because these people are coming from states where they have legal access. It's not like they need to come here, get a bunch of marijuana and take it home. They already have a source at home."

In addition, it's illegal to re-sell medical marijuana purchased from a dispensary, Spratley said.

"Diversion is a huge issue," he said. "The main thing is that true cardholders need that medicine. We are relying on the fact that they are going to be using it appropriately, and they will lose their card and not be able to ever get another one (if caught)."

According to state law, patients are only permitted to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana in any 14-day period.

In addition, patients can only purchase the drug from their one designated medical marijuana dispensary. Patients cannot change their designated dispensary more than once within a 30-day period.

Meanwhile, dispensaries in Nevada are required by law to track every patient's purchase to ensure the 2.5-ounce regulation is not exceeded.

"In these businesses, we know what they call from seed to sale, we know where it is at," Spratley said. "We know it's going out the front door properly. We know that there is nothing going out the backdoor, and if there is, (we) shut them down quickly."

In 2013, the state legislature enacted legislation that allows for the operation of Medical Marijuana Establishments, after Nevada voters approved a ballot measure in 2000 allowing the use of medical marijuana.

The entire forum was prefaced by IBN member Alan Wechsler with the following: "I want to be clear — it's not to debate whether or not there should be a (Medical Marijuana Establishment) in Incline. That's already has been established — it is coming."

Forum format

Of the six panelists at the March 31 event, each gave a brief presentation related to medical marijuana dispensaries before audience-submitted questions were read aloud by a moderator and answered by at least one panelist.

Audience members wrote down their questions on a provided blank index card, which were then collected. The floor was not opened for public comment or verbal questions.

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Read more

Another public meeting will be held next week to discuss the topic of medical marijuana in light of Incline Village’s forthcoming dispensary.