Nevada has approved an emergency regulation aimed at solving a marijuana shortage by expanding who is allowed to transport the drug from cultivation facilities to retail dispensaries.
The Nevada Tax Commission voted unanimously Thursday in favor of the regulation two weeks after the state began allowing the sale of recreational marijuana and supply problems quickly arose because nobody had been licensed to transport it.
The referendum passed last year by Nevada voters legalizing the drug for recreational use stipulated that for the first 18 months of sales only liquor wholesalers would be allowed to apply to distribute marijuana — a nod to the powerful alcohol industry, which is worried about new competition from pot.
But few alcohol distributors applied, and through Tuesday, none had been approved. When sales began July 1, retail shops — all of which were already selling marijuana for medical use — had to rely on their existing stocks, which soon started to run low.
The chairman of the Tax Commission, Jim DeVolld, said the emergency regulation was needed as the state joined several others in the still-evolving world of legal marijuana sales.
“We’re trying to do the right thing,” DeVolld said. “This is such an important time in the state of Nevada’s existence.”
Nevada’s distribution woes are unique among states that have legalized the sale of recreational marijuana. Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska allow the dispensaries to transport marijuana themselves.
In California, where voters passed a similar measure in November, residents can possess and buy recreational pot, but the state has until 2018 to begin issuing licenses to sellers and distributors.
Anticipating the problem, the Nevada tax department had tried to change the rules before legalization kicked in.
But a judge said the department had to go through the regulatory process to see how many distributors were needed.
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who didn’t support the ballot measure, signed off on the emergency regulation this week.
Tax Commission member Thom Sheets said the answer was clear to him when no distributors had been approved. “To this guy, zero is insufficient,” he said.
Riana Durrett, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of retail pot shops, testified at the hearing that the situation was dire and told stories of stores running low on edibles and popular strains of marijuana.
“There aren’t enough alcohol distributors serving that market,” Durrett said. “Without a resolution to this, sales can’t go forward and establishments will have to let employees go.”
The tax department director, Deonne Contine, said that of the nearly 70 liquor wholesalers in Nevada, seven had applied to transport marijuana.
Nevada has licensed roughly 100 marijuana growers, enough to supply the dispensaries as long as there is a way to transport the pot.