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Marijuana Regulators Tempting the Law of Unintended Consequences

I don’t envy the folks over at the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health (DPBH) who are charged with implementing Nevada’s new licensing process for Medical Marijuana Establishments (MMEs) and are presently evaluating over 500 applications.

But first, for opponents, bear in mind that Nevadans overwhelmingly voted, not once but twice, to legalize medical marijuana in the state. And to implement the voters’ wishes, the Nevada Legislature in 2013 authorized the lawful creation of medical marijuana cultivation operations, retail dispensary locations and product manufacturing facilities.

So the debate here is no longer whether or not Nevada should allow lawful use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but how to license and regulate the new industry; an industry described by one industry veteran as “maturing right before our eyes from ‘teenagers smoking pot’ to a major pharmaceutical industry with tremendous benefits to patients and a huge potential impact on the Nevada economy.”

Part of this debate is a new DPBH proposal to limit the amount of marijuana that can be legally grown in Nevada to 650,000 to one million square feet because, according to the department, “the square footage identified in the cultivation establishment applications received by the Division exceeds the projected square footage needed by 2-3 times.”

The first problem with this limitation proposal is the fact that the square footage of the cultivation facilities submitted in applications does not necessarily equate to actual growing space. In any cultivation facility additional space has to be set aside for processing operations, storage, shipping, office space, etc.

The second problem with limiting the size of cultivation facilities is that it will inevitably result in growers compacting their grow areas in order to produce more plants in the reduced space. This, in turn, will result in the use of more lighting, which will increase the environmental footprint of the facility.  It will also inevitably result in growers implementing other space-saving measures that could result in a less hospitable workplace and potentially increase safety risks.

Thirdly, such measures could also end up reducing not just the quantity of plants cultivated at the facility but the overall quality of the product, as well. That won’t be good for either the seller or the buyer.

And lastly experienced MME operators believe the Division’s estimate is way too low; pointing out ongoing supply shortages in both Colorado and Washington where legal marijuana operations are already in business. Such shortages would inevitably, but avoidably, result in higher prices for patients.

I understand why the Division wants to limit the amount of marijuana grown in the state; however, DPBH officials need to beware of the Law of Unintended Consequences when they hold a public hearing on their proposal later this month.