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County to develop codes for cannabis consumption lounges

By Kristen Hackbarth

Washoe County staff on Tuesday was directed by members of the Board of County Commissioners to develop codes for cannabis consumption lounges. Commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of proceeding with code development for the lounges. 

Commissioners Jeanne Herman and Vaughn Hartung voted against the motion.

Assembly Bill 341, passed during the 2021 legislative session, approved cannabis lounges and directed the Cannabis Compliance Board (CCB) to draft a regulatory framework. That’s been completed, and now local jurisdictions must decide whether they’ll permit the lounges, and if so, what local regulations will be in place. 

The City of Reno is working on its cannabis lounge ordinance now. Council members last week directed city staff to gather more feedback from the community before finalizing the rules. 

Chad Giesinger, the county’s planning manager, presented to commissioners details on the CCB’s regulations regarding cannabis consumption lounges. He said the state last week announced the state licensing application window for consumption lounges would be Oct. 14-27, and applicants would need to pay a one-time, nonrefundable $100,000 application fee at that time.

County code would then need to be in place to allow for the process to be completed and licensing to take place at the local level. However commissioners, in their approval to proceed with drafting codes for the lounges, provided staff a 45-day period to complete the work. The code would then need to be heard at two public hearings to be finalized. 

In addition to determining consumption lounge codes, Giesinger said the county’s business license and land use codes would need to be updated. 

The entire process may not be completed until January, at the earliest.

There are six cannabis dispensaries in unincorporated Washoe County that could potentially apply for a retail dispensary consumption lounge license – two in Sun Valley and one each in Incline Village, Washoe Valley, Spanish Springs and Lemmon Valley.  

The state regulations allow for standalone or independent consumption lounges in a number equal to the number of retail consumption lounges, meaning unincorporated Washoe County could have up to six independent lounges. This would be in addition to the number of retail and independent consumption lounges approved by the cities of Reno and Sparks. 

However, Giesinger said the state will only issue licenses for 20 independent lounges to begin with, so it’s not a guarantee that Washoe County – both incorporated and unincorporated – would have six or more of these types of consumption lounges.

Washoe Valley dispensary singled out

Some residents in Washoe Valley, however, are against consumption lounges in the county because of what they see as potential major safety issues related to nearby SoL Cannabis. 

William Naylor in public comment said a lack of public transit along with road hazards such as wild horses, wild animals and cyclists could create problems with people leaving the lounges and driving while impaired. 

Naylor also said medical response in Washoe Valley is limited. The one ambulance operated by Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District may or may not be available, he said. Increased sheriff’s office patrols in the area would likely also cost the county more money. 

Washoe Valley resident Jay Collins agreed with Naylor. He also said there’s a history of county codes not being enforced in the area with regards to the dispensary. 

“We have for four years complained about odors when the SoL dispensary is growing and processing their product,” Collins said. He added that the air quality officials with the county only show up to monitor during the day, but the dispensary releases the odors only at night. 

Ed Alexander of SoL Cannabis in Washoe Valley

Ed Alexander, owner of SoL Cannabis in Washoe Valley, said cannabis is the fifth largest industry in the state, contributing to the state’s tax base. He also asked commissioners to consider the industry’s track record for safety. 

“I think we can talk to the sheriff to confirm that there hasn’t been a significant uptick in traffic-related incidents,” he said. “I would recommend to the county that you take a long, hard look at consumption lounges as an opportunity to give the industry an opportunity to breed.” 

Alexander also pointed out that there are a number of bars and taverns in Washoe Valley which also come with the potential for impaired drivers. 

“We’ve got folks that are driving on the highways and byways that are currently inebriated on pain medications and alcohol. I don’t think we’ve seen any uptick in fatalities as a result of regulated cannabis,” he said.

He said as an industry, cannabis dispensaries are working with law enforcement to develop a means to establish inebriation. “We’ve demonstrated a history of being good partners in the community.” 

Commissioners weigh big picture and impaired driving

“I will not vote to get rid of our right to enhance our ability to generate income and improve our tourist attraction and give it all to Clark County.”

Commissioner Kitty Jung chastised county staff for a presentation that highlighted which dispensary had the greatest potential for adding a consumption lounge: SoL Cannabis in Washoe Valley. She said that any codes developed by the county for cannabis lounges wouldn’t be site specific and would cover the entire county.

“That’s inappropriate and anti-business as far as I’m concerned,” Jung said. “I just want to caution that we’re not going to pick on one dispensary…. There is no way that we can say that the other four don’t have a right to this law.”

“Do not center this on Washoe Valley or I’m leaving,” she added.

Jung said what’s missing from the conversation is information from the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority about cannabis tourism and its impacts. She said right now the conversation is largely based on “propaganda and misinformation that you’ve lived with your entire life…with racist anti-drug campaigns.” 

“I will not vote to get rid of our right to enhance our ability to generate income and improve our tourist attraction and give it all to Clark County,” she said. She also added that staff should be presenting to commissioners and the community how much tax revenue the cannabis industry generates for the county and how that money is spent.

Commissioner Bob Lucey agreed.

“This is something that was voted on by all of the citizens of Washoe County to approve the use of recreational within our state, within the community,” he said. 

Bob Lucey, Washoe County Commissioner.
Bob Lucey, Washoe County Commissioner.

Lucey also called on Capt. Corey Solferino with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office to discuss impaired driving related to cannabis consumption. Solferino said the county doesn’t have data specific to cannabis, but does extended training with deputies to spot impairment due to substances other than alcohol. 

He added that impaired driving has increased nationally – in states with and without legalized cannabis.

Lucey implied that concerns about the safety issues were misguided. He noted that residents now can use cannabis, alcohol or other substances in their homes and then drive. 

“People can buy, take it home, consume, then drive. They can go home, consume alcohol, then drive. No different than going to a consumption lounge, consuming, then driving. That’s a choice of the individual and that’s a choice of enforcement,” Lucey said. “I don’t like the idea of giving more opportunity [to drive impaired] to people, but I don’t know if this is going to specifically limit the ability of people to consume and drive.” 

Commissioner Hartung cited data from Nevada Department of Transportation that statewide in 2021 there were 108 traffic fatalities where any marijuana was detected. Polysubstance-related crashes, which involve the use of more than one drug, resulted in 114 fatalities that same year.

“I am opposed to putting impaired drivers on the road, period. I don’t care whether it’s alcohol, or marijuana or anything else. I’m opposed to that. It’s devastating,” Hartung said.

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