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Plenty of Problems with Pot Approval Process

Whether it was the process established by the Legislature, or the implementation established the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health (DPBH), the ratings of applications for some 500-plus Medical Marijuana Establishment (MME) licenses which were just released are about as fouled up as anything we’ve seen recently from the state government.

Consider this…

You go to school. You think you did really great.  At the end of the semester you receive a report card.  But the report card only tells you your Grade Point Average is 2.3 without telling you how that score was arrived at (he writes knowingly ending a sentence with a preposition in defiance of his Grammar teacher).

You don’t know what grade you got in Math. You don’t know what you got in English.  You don’t know what you got in Science.  You don’t know what you got in History.  All you know is that you chalked up a 2.3 GPA when you thought you should have gotten a 3.5 GPA.  As such, you have no idea what you need to work on in the next semester to improve.

Well, that’s exactly the situation MME applicants find themselves in now that the DPBH has reviewed the submitted applications and issued ratings. The applications were graded based on seven different categories where a wide range of points could be earned, up to a perfect score of 250.

Applications were graded in the areas of financial resources (up to 40 points), business experience (up to 50 points), patient convenience (up to 20 points), the impact the MME business might have in the community (up to 20 points), the size of the proposed establishment (up to 20 points), security (up to 75 points) and the amount of Nevada taxes the applicants have paid in recent years (up to 25 points).


What that last one has to do with a business operator’s ability to operate a business professionally and profitably, I have no idea. But that’s a different discussion to have on a different day.

Now let me give you just one example of how fouled up this evaluation system turned out to be…

There’s an MME applicant called Tryke Companies. The grade the company received from the state to open a dispensary in Clark County was 212.97.  But the grade the exact same company received to operate a dispensary in North Las Vegas was just 192.97, while the grade the company received for its proposed operation in Sparks was 202.03.


But don’t worry. It gets worse.

Even though a number of the MME applicants signed consent waivers allowing their scores to be posted online, the DPBH has informed me that not only wouldn’t the individual grade points for each of the seven different categories be disclosed to the public…they’re not even going to give that information to the applicants!

So you spend $5,000 to submit an application and probably tens of thousands of dollars in man-hours to prepare an application consisting of thousands of pages of documents, and the government isn’t even going to tell you what it was about your application that caused it to be rejected?


And just to make matters worse, the DPBH also won’t release the names of the staffers who evaluated each category of each application, so there’s no way to tell if, say, one reviewer gave extra points if an applicant had experience operating an MME operation in Arizona but another one docked applicants if their experience was operating in Colorado.

How is anyone supposed to know if there was a “Russian judge” involved in the evaluation process?

Indeed, this grading system simply isn’t objective. And one MME applicant – who understandably wishes to remain anonymous – went so far as to call it “corrupt.”

Your score depends, at least in part, on the personal biases and preferences of a faceless, anonymous grader.

It’s like submitting a 5-part term paper to your teacher and then the teacher randomly assigns each term paper to a rotating team of unknown teaching assistants to grade each separate section and then only provide you with your final total point score without telling you which teaching assistant graded which portion of your paper.

Truly, this is ridiculous.

I attended a North Las Vegas city council meeting a couple weeks ago in which the zoning requests for 60-some MME applications were considered. Each application was reviewed by a staffer whose name appeared on a detailed, PUBLIC report assessing the suitability of each individual application.

THAT’S the kind of openness and transparency that’s called for here.

But it still gets worse…

Let’s look at how the DPBH handled Henderson, Nevada. Using the terribly flawed process outlined above, that state issued provisional licenses to five applicants to operate dispensaries in the city.  As a resident of Henderson, you probably would like to know who those five applicants are and where their dispensaries will be opened, right?

Sorry, Charlie.

Amazingly, not one of the five approved operators signed a disclosure consent form agreeing to allow their identities to be revealed to the public. How in the world can the government allow such secrecy to be perpetrated on the taxpayers and citizens of a community?

And then there’s the holy mess we now have in Clark County.

The aforementioned Tryke Companies was ranked #2 among all applicants there (the identity of the #1 applicant is being kept secret). But last summer Clark County, for whatever political reasons, DENIED Tryke Companies local approval to operate.

So the state says Tryke is the second best potential MME dispensary operator in all of Clark County, but Clark County said Tryke wasn’t suitable enough and rejected them (a limit of 18 licenses are allowed).

So what do county commissioners do now? If they bump someone else who already received their advance local approval, lawsuit city.  If they still deny Tryke after scoring so high from the state, lawsuit city.

How did this happen?

It happened because the government decided to play God and regulate the free market, that’s how.

Much like teachers in our worst-in-the-nation public schools, it’s not the fault of the individual staffers at DPBH who have been forced to do the best they can with a lousy system.

In its infinite wisdom, the Nevada Legislature decided that MME operators could open an unlimited number of cultivation or production facilities, but only a limited number of retail sales operations/dispensaries.


If Walgreens or CVS wants to open a pharmacy somewhere in Nevada, they need not submit thousands of pages of documents to unidentified government employees who will determine, based solely on submitted paperwork, whether or not you can successfully operate in the marketplace in order to get one of a strictly limited number of government permission slips to open your business to the public.

The drug store gets zoning approval from the local government, builds its store, opens the door and lets the public determine whether or not they make a profit and stay in business.

So here’s what needs to happen now…

First, there is no reason on God’s marijuana-green earth not to at least provide the MME applicants themselves the details of the scores they just received by category.

Even if the law the Legislature wrote says you can’t disclose that information to the public – which is outrageous enough! – those detailed scores MUST be immediately provided to the applicants who paid big money seeking a license to operate a dispensary in Nevada. DPBH needs to immediately stop hiding behind an ambiguous disclosure provision in the law that surely never intended to prohibit releasing detailed scoring assessments to those being scored.

Secondly, the identities of the applicants who did receive a Golden Ticket from the DPBH to operate in each local community must NOT be allowed to remain secret. The citizens of those jurisdictions, and residents of the neighborhoods where the “approved” dispensaries will be located, have a right to immediately know who’s coming to dinner.

And lastly, the Legislature next session needs to give up this notion of regulating the free market and abolish the limits it placed on the number of dispensaries which are allowed to open and operate.

The best operators will provide great customer service and high-quality products at competitive prices. The worst will be driven out of business by lack of customer support.  If Walgreens can open up shop right across the street from CVS, then a Medifarm dispensary should be able to open shop right across the street from NuLeaf.

So let it be written; so let it be done.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just prior to publication, I received an email from Pam Graber, public information officer for the Medical Marijuana Program at DPBH advising that “We are developing a process for providing scoring information.”

That’s encouraging, but we’ll have to see when and how they actually do so. Keep your fingers crossed.