NV: Wells, West Wendover To Cash In On Marijuana

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As the Elko City Council prepares for action on an ordinance banning marijuana shops in Elko, West Wendover is awaiting state action to clear the way for a medical marijuana dispensary that would be the only one in Elko County.

“The closest one at this point is Ely. There is nothing in the northeastern part of the state,” said West Wendover City Manager Chris Melville.

West Wendover also is ready to act once the state approves applications for a cannabis cultivation and production facility, but Wells is looking at a cultivation and production operation as well, so there could be two cities in the county where marijuana is grown and processed.

The Elko City Council meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday, and plans a first reading of a zoning ordinance amended to prohibit any marijuana establishments within the city. The council decided at its Jan. 9 meeting to act on the proposed ordinance after rejecting Elko Planning Commission’s recommendation to drop the amendment.

The planners thought the city’s regulations for business licenses that require businesses to be in compliance with federal laws would be enough to block marijuana shops in the city. Marijuana is not legal at the federal level.

Prior to the vote on the ordinance the council will consider a resolution proposed by Councilman John Patrick Rice calling for a four-year moratorium on issuing business licenses for marijuana establishments, both medical and recreational. A current moratorium on selling marijuana is due to expire in March.

Rice wants the new moratorium in lieu of amending the zoning ordinance.

The only other incorporated city in Elko County, Carlin, does not allow marijuana sales for medical or recreational purposes. Carlin City Manager David Jones said a marijuana moratorium is in place.

Incorporated cities can take their own action on marijuana, as can Native American reservations, but the rest of Elko County is not allowed to commercially grow or sell the plant.

Elko County Commissioners passed an ordinance last September prohibiting growing marijuana, producing marijuana products and dispensing pot in unincorporated areas of the county. Commissioners also rejected a request last fall from Jackpot to allow recreational marijuana sales in the unincorporated town that borders Idaho.

Wells City Manager Jolene Supp said the council voted at its last meeting to amend an earlier ordinance prohibiting marijuana to allow a facility for cultivation and production of marijuana in the city’s industrial park. The ordinance still must be drafted and go through two readings.

“The City of Wells will allow one entity,” she said.

There won’t be any dispensaries or pot shops in Wells, however, so people can’t buy marijuana in the city. The growing and production plant would sell wholesale to dispensaries and shops in Nevada.

West Wendover’s ordinance allows only one dispensary and for one cultivation facility, but the West Wendover City Council isn’t ready to allow recreational use, Melville said.

“The council as yet has not adopted recreational language,” he said, adding that the council voted at its Jan. 2 meeting to table any consideration of recreational use. “The majority of the council is not ready to go down that road.”

Melville said the timing to table the vote was good since the day after that meeting, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued instructions giving U.S. attorneys in each state the decision over whether to act on marijuana cases.

West Wendover had expected there to be a medical dispensary open by now, but the city’s earlier efforts were put on hold when the state’s new regulations took precedence.

“It was very confusing” while the city awaited communications from the state, Melville said.

Now, the Nevada Department of Taxation is looking at dispensary license applications that were submitted by a Dec. 4, 2017, deadline.

“The state hasn’t released who submitted,” Melville said, but he understands the state will rank and pre-approve license applicants for cities to make the final selection.

He said he knows of at least one applicant that filled out city forms to include with the application. That company is Deep Roots Harvest, which had already filed a full plan with the city for a dispensary and growing facility.

If the state approves Deep Roots, and the council selects that company, “there won’t be much of a process to issue a business license,” Melville said.

Deep Roots had earlier said that if it operated a store, growing facility and production plant in West Wendover, the company would have roughly 40 employees starting at $14 to $15 an hour, he said.

Other dispensary applicants could have submitted dispensary applications to the state without going through the city so West Wendover won’t know more until it hears from the state. Melville believes the state will act by early February.

The applications to the state for licenses to operate cultivation and production facilities had a later deadline of Jan. 2-16, and the cities may not know all the names of all the applicants.

Supp said two applicants asked the city to send accompanying letters, but others may have submitted without the letters.

Since Wells hasn’t passed the ordinance allowing the production and growing facility yet, the city letters stated the amended ordinance should be in place by the time licenses are issued.

Melville said he knows of three entities that completed city forms to apply for a growing and production operation, but only one will be allowed in the city. Deep Roots is one of the cultivation applicants. That company has facilities in Mesquite that West Wendover council members toured last year.

Once West Wendover and Wells each choose a company for a cultivation and production operation, the companies will still need to submit plans and seek a business license.

“The state law is very clear. Business plans submitted can’t be predicated on illegal activities or sales to areas where it’s not legal,” Supp said.