California may not suffer same pitfalls as Nevada with recreational pot, but still plenty to learn | TahoeDailyTribune.com

California may not suffer same pitfalls as Nevada with recreational pot, but still plenty to learn

Alan Riquelmy | ariquelmy@theunion.com

A line of customers extended around the building Saturday morning at The Dispensary in Reno.

The line of people outside Blüm Reno extended around the building’s front and partially down its side.

About 65 customers stood at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday, July 1, outside the South Virginia Street marijuana dispensary, waiting for the front door to open. No longer restricted to medicinal cannabis only, the dispensary had opened at 12 a.m. that day — the exact first moment it could legally sell recreational cannabis under Nevada law. It remained open for about six hours and closed briefly before again opening at 9 a.m.

Some customers, eager for the first chance to buy recreational cannabis, shouted out how many minutes remained until opening. Fifteen, then nine, then five.

“I’ve been waiting 18 years to do this,” said Frederick Wood, of Reno, one of the first few people in line. “I’m tired of meeting people in a parking lot and hoping the cops don’t show up. I guess I’m really here because I want to feel normal. Now, here I am with a slew of people with no judgment of who I am.”

Chazz Levins, of Fallon, Nev., felt the same way, except he waited 40 years to buy marijuana legally.

“I didn’t think I would ever see it legal here,” Levins said. “They fought it for years. I almost did time for a couple of seeds.”

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Mirror images of the scene outside Blüm Reno appeared Saturday at dispensaries across Nevada. Approving recreational cannabis on the same day as California, Nevada opted to start their sales on Saturday. California won’t issue dispensary licenses until Jan. 1. The first recreational dispensaries in this state are expected to open shortly afterward.

Chaos

Four dispensaries in Reno — Blüm Reno, The Dispensary, Sierra Wellness Connection and Mynt Cannabis Dispensary — were permitted to have recreational sales.

A civil case focusing on who could distribute recreational cannabis, ultimately won by alcohol distributors, threw the Saturday, July 1, start date into question. That decision gave alcohol distributors an 18-month monopoly on getting product to dispensaries, though the dispensaries themselves feared those distributors wouldn’t have the proper licensing in place.

A number of dispensary managers said they intended to buy as much stock as they could before the start of recreational sales. That stock could be sold to recreational customers, though they had to go through an alcohol distributor once Saturday arrived.

At least, that appeared to be the prevailing wisdom.

Many questions remained just days before recreational sales began.

Nick Murray, a manager with Sierra Wellness, said days before Saturday that product potency and customer buying limits remained a gray area. However, he planned to operate under a 1 ounce limit per customer.

“These are questions we all have,” Murray said. “I don’t think the state has looked into that.”

The issue of distribution also remained a concern. Murray said he had no worries about having enough stock for the first day of recreational sales.

“But down the road, two weeks, three weeks, I’m getting a little antsy,” he said.

Jeff Grossman, manager at The Dispensary, shares those concerns. He spent the day before recreational sales went live preparing his Reno location, expecting high traffic.

His customers didn’t disappoint. Like Blüm Reno, they wrapped around the building in anticipation of the 8 a.m. opening time.

According to Grossman, no alcohol distributor as of Friday had a marijuana distribution license. He hopes those distributors get their licenses within a week, providing enough time to restock.

“We’re hoping they come out soon,” he said.

Lessons learned

Nevada’s turmoil over recreational cannabis won’t be repeated in the Golden State, said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association.

“I can’t help but chuckle,” Allen said. “Distribution and logistics is a complicated part of any business.”

According to Allen, California has no comparable distribution requirement like Nevada, meaning no distribution monopoly will exist.

Instead, Allen sees a likely problem for California is a supply chain struggling to get permits. He pointed to Nevada County, saying this county has growers but as of yet no permitting structure.

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors has said it wants a permanent grow ordinance in place by March. A citizen’s panel will draft recommendations for that ordinance, delivering them around year’s end.

The board has yet to create local authorization — permits — for growers.

New state law, called the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, forbids state licenses for those who are in violation of local ordinances. Applicants may show a local license or permit as proof they’re not in violation of local law, though that local permit isn’t required.

Allen said he’d like local authorization for Nevada County in place by September, giving growers enough time to apply for state licenses that become available Jan. 1.

Allen noted that possessing a local permit doesn’t mean state license applicants would receive preferential treatment from the state. However, the law doesn’t prevent them from getting such treatment.

“We need to see some action from them,” he said of the supervisors.

Both Grass Valley and Nevada City have discussed allowing dispensaries, with Nevada City taking action last week to allow medical marijuana cultivation, distribution, transportation, manufacturing and testing laboratory businesses.

Nevada City’s ordinance requires a business have state licensing before the city will issue a permit. The council already has discussed tweaking its ordinance.

The experience

Ordinances and state laws aside, the mood Saturday morning was jovial as customers vied for shelter in the shade as they waited for dispensary doors to open.

At times a passing vehicle would honk its horn at the expectant customers, eliciting a cry in response.

Django Broomfield, head breeder for MTG Seeds, was one of the first people in line Saturday morning at The Dispensary, waiting to buy his product from a legal, recreational business.

Waiting since 4:20 a.m., Broomfield and Todd Weatherhead, who grows the strains that Broomfield makes, waited years for the day, like hundreds of others that crowded that morning around dispensary doors.

“It’s a landmark event that’s happening in Nevada,” Broomfield said. “It’s huge.”

Broomfield, of Mendocino, said he’s been part of the cannabis industry his entire life. His father’s grown the plant, and Broomfield has worked toward bringing marijuana from illegality toward the gray market, and ultimately to the regulated marketplace.

But while both Nevada and California have legalized marijuana, plenty of restrictions remain. Nevada customers must use cash to buy cannabis. Also, no public consumption is allowed.

Additionally, it remains against federal law to take it from one state to another.

“It could be considered trafficking a Schedule I controlled substance across state lines,” advised California attorney Melissa Sanchez. “I definitely would advise people strongly not to do that.”

Pretty soon, recreational users won’t have to visit Nevada to buy cannabis.

“It’s probably the most regulated industry in Nevada,” said Weatherhead, holding up the eighth-of-an-ounce he bought for $50. “Any price where you can buy weed legally is a good price. Whatever that market determines — that’s a good price.”

Contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy via email at ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

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