Medical marijuana advocates complain license process slow
A small group of medical marijuana advocates marched on Las Vegas City Hall on Friday, complaining that the city had dragged its feet on a business license and was leaving patients and caregivers in legal limbo.
The day started with high emotions and ended with a big stack of paperwork for James Parsons, president of Medical Cannabis Consultants of Nevada, who said he got the licensing material and feedback that he needed to ensure he ran his operation legally.
"Let's go, guys," he said to friends and co-workers, several of whom are also marijuana patients, who were waiting in the city's business licensing office during his 45-minute meeting with licensing officials. "We gotta rock and roll.
"We're good on everything."
There are other businesses, though, that apparently are not following the law. And advocates say the law itself is broken in a fundamental way, since it allows patients to possess marijuana but doesn't really provide a way to legally obtain it.
"There is no way to be a patient in this program without breaking the law at some point," said Craig Daughenbaugh, a registry member who works with Parsons.
Voters amended Nevada's Constitution in 2000 to recognize the use of medical marijuana, and a state law took effect in 2001. It allows patients, with a doctor's recommendation, to enroll in a state registry.
Marijuana can be used by people with AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, or a condition that causes significant weight loss, persistent muscle spasms or seizures, severe nausea or pain.
State law allows a patient to have 1 ounce of usable marijuana, three mature plants and four immature plants.
That's where questions cropped up for Parsons, who is licensed as a consultant:
■ Is he allowed to teach people how to grow marijuana?
■ Can he put them in touch with suppliers?
■ What about businesses that are advertising themselves as marijuana dispensaries?
Those are long-standing questions, said Fergus Laughridge, who manages the medical marijuana registry for the Nevada Department of Health.
"Those laws are silent as to dispensaries or any type of that structure," he said. "It is not a marijuana program in the full extent that you might see in other states."
Laughridge's office frequently receives calls from people wanting to set up a licensed marijuana dispensary like those that exist in other states. People can't, because the law doesn't allow it. That hasn't stopped at least seven dispensaries from opening anyway, he added.
"If you do that, you're doing it at your own risk, because law enforcement may have something to weigh in on that," Laughridge said.
For Parsons' venture, he was told he could teach people things such as growing seedlings and cloning plants, as long as he didn't use actual marijuana plants.
Other plans, such as teaching people about electrical and irrigation systems for home gardens, are covered under the existing consultants license, while activities such as selling T-shirts or operating vending machines require additional business licenses.
Medical Cannabis Consultants of Nevada is nonprofit, with most of its income coming from a $100 processing fee charged to patients it shepherds through the system.
Although 14 states have approved the medical use of marijuana, it remains illegal for those outside of those programs and is against federal law.
Last year, the Obama administration told federal prosecutors to leave medical marijuana users alone and instead focus on drug traffickers, money launderers or those misusing state laws.
Meanwhile, Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws has started another initiative aimed at legalizing the possession of small amounts by adults and establishing a network of growers and retail outlets. Similar efforts did not succeed at the ballot box in 2002 and 2006.
With enough signatures of registered voters, the proposal could be before the Legislature in 2011 and before voters in 2012 if lawmakers don't act.
By ALAN CHOATE
PHOTOS By JASON BEAN/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Sunday, June 13th, 2010
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