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Court victory will have little impact on cannabis lounges

By Bob Conrad

A court victory last week will have little impact on future cannabis lounges in the Reno area. The ACLU of Nevada successfully fought the state of Nevada in court.

It filed in April a lawsuit against the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy because the board had failed to update its policies about cannabis. It still considered cannabis a Schedule 1 substance, as classified by the federal government, making it illegal for consumption and distribution.

Nevada, however, had legalized the plant for consumer use in 2017, rendering the board’s classification moot, the ACLU argued.

The effect was that people could still be arrested for cannabis possession.

“Police departments and district attorneys in Nevada have wasted an immense amount of taxpayer dollars by seeking criminal convictions and penalties for small-time cannabis possession,” the ACLU’s Sadmira Ramic said in April. “The failure to remove cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance not only goes against voters’ will, but it violates the Nevada Constitution, which unequivocally recognizes cannabis’ value.”

The court victory in the case came last week. The ACLU prevailed against the state.

ACLU of Nevada Legal Director Chris Peterson said:

“There’s been an ongoing inconsistency with how Nevada categorizes cannabis. For some people, it’s a medicine or a good time on a Friday night, and for some people it was a felony. We’re glad that we’ve now resolved this inconsistency to prevent further injustice, and we’ll continue our work to ensure that the promise of cannabis decriminalization is realized in Nevada.”

The determination, however, won’t affect plans to open cannabis lounges in Nevada which have been underway for some time. A 2021 bill in the Nevada legislature paved the way for cannabis consumption lounges. Applications for such lounges are being accepted by the state now.

Regulators have received 100 applications to date. Of those, 50 independent lounges have applied, 20 applications have been received from existing cannabis retailers and 30 “social equity applicants” have applied to open lounges. 

Approvals could occur in early 2023 but local jurisdictions have yet to iron out local regulations. 

“The local governments have been given an ultimatum from the state Cannabis Compliance Board by September of this year to indicate whether they are participating, yes or no,” said Will Adler, a lobbyist for the cannabis industry. “We have a pretty good understanding of who is participating or not.”

The state has to approve which businesses that have applied will proceed.

Washoe County in mid-October approved giving county staff direction to begin changing codes to allow the lounges. The city of Reno in mid-September approved surveying the community on its regulations. Public outreach is expected to get community feedback on potential lounges.

Eight retail locations could be permitted in Reno.

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