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Medical marijuana in Nevada set framework for recreational sales

Posted at 7:35 PM, Jun 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-12 19:49:11-04

In the coming weeks, recreational marijuana retail sales are set to begin in Nevada. But how will it affect existing medical marijuana patients?

Medical marijuana dispensaries opened across Nevada in 2015. The framework for the medical program is providing a "launching pad" for recreational sales, said Andrew Jolley, owner of The+Source dispensary and president of the Nevada Dispensary Association.

"The only dispensaries who will be able to sell recreationally are existing medical dispensaries," he said. "So we are very much building upon the regulated framework that has worked very well in Nevada when we transition into adult use."

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The transition to recreational pot does raise the concern of the focus shifting away from medical patients as recreational sales are expected to be higher than medical.

"Never having sold cannabis in a recreational environment, we are all concerned about the medical patients being lost in the shuffle, if you will," Jolley said. "None of us want to see that happen. We're all working very hard to make sure that we can serve the medical patients' needs as well as the future adult use customers."

In other states that have legalized recreational pot, such as Colorado, medical marijuana sales only make up about 30 to 40 percent of the overall revenue. Some of this can be attributed to adult customers not needing a medical card, just being 21 and older. But Jolley still thinks there will be a demand from medical patients in Nevada.

"I think medical marijuana will remain strong," he said. "There's a lot of patients here in Nevada who have now become used to being able to purchase medical products here in the state over the past two years."

In addition, AB422, authored by Assemblyman Nelson Araujo, D-Las Vegas, would make it easier for patients to obtain a medical marijuana card and certain fees would be removed, giving patients a financial incentive to still get a card.

Besides the bill, medical marijuana will also be taxed at a lower rate than recreational pot, about 10 percent less.

While there are some medical patients against the sale of recreational pot, overall, Jolley said many support it.

"People who use cannabis as medicine today generally tend to be people who favor legalization and don't feel that this plant should be unfairly criminalized like it has been in the past," Jolley said. "So I would say overwhelmingly patients are excited and happy that we're finally normalizing cannabis and treating it for what it is rather than the stigmas of the past."

July 1 is the target date for recreational pot sales, despite a legal challenge that could potentially postpone the launch. 

A group of alcohol distributors are arguing that they have the first rights to distribute recreational pot. A judge sided with the plaintiffs, putting the start date in jeopardy.

But Jolley, among others, are confident the July 1 timeframe will go forward once more facts are presented to the courts.

"I think once presented with all the facts and implications, I think the court will allow the program to continue as planned," he said.