Where We Are With Medical Marijuana

As the county’s first dispensary inches closer to opening, you probably have questions. We have answers.

Higher education: At Oaksterdam University, students learn the business of cannabis. | Photo by Jesse J Sutherland

Higher education: At Oaksterdam University, students learn the business of cannabis. | Photo by Jesse J Sutherland

Nevada legislators first approved medicinal marijuana use way back in 2001, yet it wasn’t until late 2014 that the state licensed its first dispensary. So it should come as no surprise that getting the product into the hands of patients hasn’t been quick or easy. However, with just a few more logistical hurdles to clear, it’s likely that the first dispensary will open sometime in the spring. In the meantime, here’s an update on some key issues relevant to the local medical marijuana movement:

⇐ State officials are navigating what should be the final roadblock as they attempt to determine a list of approved pesticides and heavy-metal limits, which must be in place before dispensaries open. The Division of Public and Behavioral Health established an Independent Laboratory Advisory Committee to “provide recommendations to the Division regarding the testing of medical marijuana,” as well as help create a testing-policy manual. The committee met March 4 but still has not issued official guidelines. Although additional meetings are expected, none were scheduled at press time.

⇐ No matter if you’re peddling cotton balls or cannabis, business begins with customers. The good news for local dispensaries is their potential customer base has risen significantly over the last year: From January 2014 to January 2015, the number of medical marijuana cardholders in Clark County increased by nearly 75 percent, from 3,544 to 6,195.

⇐ Speaking of dispensaries, they’re finally closing in on opening their doors, with one outpost—Euphoria Wellness on South Jones Boulevard—hoping to be in business by early April, if not sooner, pending approval of the aforementioned pesticide-testing guidelines. “We’re about to get our business license, the medicine is all arranged and we are prepared to be up and running with the full gamut of products,” says Jim Ferrence, a representative for Euphoria.

The Grove Wellness Center has dispensaries in Las Vegas (on Paradise Road) and Pahrump, and Grove CEO Demetri Kouretas says he expects both to be open no later than summer. Kouretas adds that Grove is also working on opening its own growing facilities. “We should be able to sell [our] own cultivated product in our dispensaries by first quarter 2016,” he says. “We will have complete product quality control, and the ability to manage the overall cost, which gets passed on to the patients.”

⇐ Anything medicinal or consumable needs to be tested, and marijuana is no exception. Steep Hill Halent Lab has cannabis-testing facilities in three states and soon will be opening its first Nevada office in Las Vegas. Steep Hill CEO David Lampach explains that testing is about “health and safety, quality assurance and knowing what’s in your product.”

Steep Hill tests for potency, as well as mold, solvents, pesticides and other adulterants. “We’re serving the industry and serving patients on both sides of the counter,” he says. Steep Hill’s Las Vegas lab is tentatively set to open April 20, but Lampach says that may change if they’re not fully prepared for the “thousands of samples a week” they anticipate.

⇐ As the industry finds its place in the community, education and information are vital. Enter Elevate NV: The Medical Marijuana Monthly. “I’m not trying to portray the hippie stoner,” says publisher Guy Bertuzzi. “The idea is kind of removing the stigma. … If we do it right, we do it educated and we do it classy, it can help move the conversation forward.” Bertuzzi says Elevate NV will concentrate on medical, legal and industry stories, as well as providing a dispensary finder. Fittingly, the magazine expects to launch April 20.

⇐ As with any startup, employees, suppliers and other staffers require training. This is where Oaksterdam University comes in. The Oakland-based cannabis education institution recently offered horticulture seminars in Las Vegas, and will return in June with more classes and a job fair. Aseem Sapaal, dean of faculty at Oaksterdam, says the school offers a “horticulture-specific” program, as well as a more comprehensive course that covers topics such as politics, history, science, economics, the law (local and federal), and even cooking with cannabis. “We have 18-year-olds, we have 80-year-olds—doctors and lawyers taking our class sitting right next to high school graduates,” Sapaal says.

Oaksterdam has graduated 20,000 students since 2007 from its brick-and-mortar facility in California, as well as traveling seminars, and Sapaal says they’re eying Las Vegas and Denver for additional permanent campuses. “We model ourselves no differently than any other educational institution or university,” he says. “The only thing that’s different is our content.”