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County proceeds with cannabis consumption lounge regulations

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Washoe’s Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday issued another approval in a 3-2 vote giving county staff direction to begin amending codes to allow for cannabis consumption lounges. 

Commissioners Vaughn Hartung and Jeanne Herman both returned with no votes.

Commissioners on Sept. 20 voted in favor of developing codes to allow for the lounges, and this week’s approval gave staff the green light to work with the district attorney’s office to amend codes in chapters 25 and 110 of county codes – related to business licensing, permitting and regulations, and development, respectively. 

Chad Giesinger, the county’s planning manager, told commissioners that the state’s Cannabis Compliance Board had already set forth rules on how many permits would be issued. The county will be able to decide where stand-alone lounges would be permitted through development codes. 

Cannabis lounges associated with retail locations can be in existing retail locations.

“Right now all cannabis uses are limited to the commercial and industrial zones and have been since the inception of the original ordinances,” Giesinger said. Any changes to that limit would have to be approved through development code changes. 

Other changes that may be made to development code could limit how close cannabis consumption lounges could be to things such as schools and churches. 

Commissioner Hartung repeated his objections to cannabis and consumption lounges, and the impaired driving that he says can follow once lounges open. 

His comments were disputed by Commissioner Kitty Jung, who was designated the board’s subject matter expert. She argued that polydrug use data shows 99% of instances of impaired driving are alcohol-based.

“As always, just like filling out an illegal ballot is a felony so is driving altered no matter what that substance is,” Jung said. “I will again squash that information as the subject matter expert on this. There are so much data on this that is much more clear on this than what’s represented.”

This Is Reno reporting, based on Reno Police data, showed in 2019 an increase in cannabis DUIs because of the prevalence of cannabis, better training in law enforcement, the cost of testing and more DUI officers. 

A national study by Boston University’s School of Public Health also found cannabis DUIs are contributing to increased deaths on roadways and cannabis plus alcohol DUIs are on the rise.

“Although the proportion of crash deaths involving alcohol has remained relatively constant over the last two decades, the proportion of crash deaths involving other substances, particularly cannabis, has increased, and little attention has been given to the connection between alcohol and cannabis use,” the study’s authors noted in a summary of their research. “This study suggests … that cannabis and alcohol are increasingly being used together when it comes to impaired driving, and that cannabis increases the likelihood of alcohol use in crash deaths.” 

Truckee Meadows to get streamlined emergency response

County Manager Eric Brown said the managers of Sparks, Reno and Washoe County have been meeting weekly since late July when Reno and Sparks councils and Washoe County’s commissioners discussed working together to improve the region’s 911 dispatch. 

With separate dispatch centers for each locality, the system is inefficient and duplicates efforts and resources, Sparks City Manager Neil Krutz said during that meeting. 

Brown on Tuesday said that the managers, working with a group of community members and experts, have decided to move to a common computer-aided dispatch platform. He said the new platform has already been selected and negotiations are underway with the vendor. 

A facilitator has also been selected to “weed through some of the dicey issues” with the stakeholder agencies, and then progress will be made on governance, funding and other details, Brown said.

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Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.

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