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Rural county wants in on Nevada’s cannabis industry. Regulators say not yet.

Updated February 23, 2022 - 3:02 pm

Rural Nevada is eyeing a new cash crop.

They’ll just need to get past the state’s cannabis regulators first.

White Pine County on Tuesday petitioned the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board to change the state’s marijuana regulations to let individual counties request a limited licensing window for businesses looking to obtain a marijuana business license within the county.

For White Pine, the petition signals a changing of the tune for the once cannabis-hesitant county. Years after imposing a moratorium on marijuana businesses, the county is now looking to capitalize on the state’s thriving marijuana industry and says that not having any licensed cannabis businesses is hurting the the county’s ability diversify its economy as it tries to expand beyond the traditional rural revenue streams of farming, ranching and mining.

“The lack of cannabis licenses is creating direct and tangible harm in White Pine County,” White Pine County Manager Mark Wheable wrote in the petition to the board dated Feb. 7.

But the board was resistant to White Pine’s request and denied the petition Tuesday. Compliance Board Chairman Michael Douglas said that the board needs “to do homework on this issue” and left the door open for the county to bring another petition in the future.

Like several other rural counties in Nevada, White Pine placed a moratorium on cannabis licensing in 2014. That moratorium lasted until the White Pine County Commission in October approved a new ordinance to allow for licensing of cannabis businesses throughout the county.

But businesses can only apply for the also-needed state cannabis licenses during open application periods, and there has been no such licensing window in several years. White Pine’s previous moratorium meant that no licenses were ever given to the county.

Seeking to diversify economy

White Pine has long been reliant upon the mining industry, growing and busting along with the industry itself. Adding cannabis to the economic portfolio of the county that’s home to roughly 9,600 residents will help it move away from that mining reliance, Wheable said during Tuesday’s meeting.

The county partnered in the petition with Silver Lion Farms, a hemp farm located north of Ely. The county’s petition was specific to cannabis growing and production facilities, and did include any potential new licenses for dispensaries or lounges, which are capped by state law.

Wheable said that the county is trying to facilitate new business and brought the petition to aid the county’s push to diversify its economy. He noted that the additional revenue also would support the county’s tax base. Will Adler, also representing the county at Tuesday’s meeting, said that the petition is not just for one license or one single business, though, and that the county would like to see several new cannabis businesses if possible.

“Were just looking to see how we can better our citizens’ lives and make sure we’re part of this market and part of this industry, and not have a back seat to watching this economy pass us by,” Wheable said.

Missed ‘first sailing’ of ship

The board wasn’t swayed by the county’s argument.

“The county missed the first sailing of the ship,” Douglas, the board’s chair, said.

State regulations allow the board to determine whether there are enough cannabis businesses in the state to serve the state’s demand before opening any new license application window, and Douglas said that includes conducting a market study or analysis beforehand to examine how any new cannabis licenses would affect the overall marijuana industry in Nevada.

“We’re not looking at something that just has county application. It has statewide application as well as to how it affects the marketplace. So I think we do need to do homework on this issue.”

The state has issued more than 700 medical and recreational cannabis licenses, the vast majority of which reside in the state’s main population hubs of Clark and Washoe counties. Seven of Nevada’s 17 counties have no cannabis licenses, according to the compliance board’s most recent list of licensees. One marijuana dispensary operates in White Pine’s largest city, Ely, but that business was licensed through the city, not the county.

The board also asked its executive director, Tyler Klimas, to bring the issue to the Cannabis Advisory Commission, a 12-person commission that discusses cannabis issues and can recommend changes in state regulations to the compliance board.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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