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Cannabis in Nevada: 1 Year Later

At the stroke of midnight on July 1 last year, the lines were around the corner at local marijuana dispensaries in Nevada. Vietnam veterans stood in lines with parents and their adult sons and daughters, with first-time pot consumers and people that just wanted to be there for a "moment in history."

"I think we’ve done very well. Many view the manner in which Nevada has rolled out this new industry as the gold standard," said Bill Anderson, executive director of the Nevada Department of Taxation, which enforces recreational marijuana regulations statewide. "That doesn’t mean there haven’t been hiccups. We learn something new every day."

In the past year since recreational marijuana first was placed on Nevada shelves, just a half-year after it became legal, almost all of the state's marijuana establishments have tapped in to the industry. All but a few of the dispensaries sell recreational product, including the more than a dozen in Northern Nevada.

Cannabis in Nevada: 1 Year Later

Northern Nevada is currently home to 13 recreational marijuana dispensaries, 18 cultivators, 14 production facilities and two laboratories. In the south, there are 48 recreational dispensaries, 98 cultivators, 66 production facilities and seven labs.

So how has our state changed? Are we seeing more ER visits? Stoned students? Marijuana-related DUIs?

Here's what you should know:

Have we seen an increase in pot-related DUIs?

Short answer: Looks like it.

Long answer:

Since July last year, the Washoe County Sheriff's Office alone has seen a substantial increase in the number of DUI arrests resulting solely from a positive test for marijuana.* In 2017, the sheriff's office arrested 852 people who later tested positive for cannabinoids, or marijuana compounds, in their blood system.

"Marijuana, with some of the THC levels out there — especially these concentrated products — we’re not sure how long their high is going to last. We want people to exercise their judgment responsibly," said Sgt. Corey Solferino, legislative liaison for the Washoe County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office is not sure whether the increase is a result of more drivers under the influence of marijuana or more law enforcement testing for the presence of cannabis in a driver's blood system, or both. Nevada Highway Patrol and Reno Police Department were unable to provide statistics at the time of publication.

What about burglaries at pot dispensaries?

Short answer: Read the long answer.

Long answer: High security measures taken by marijuana establishments mean that most calls to establishments are for alarms rather than burglaries. The Washoe County Sheriff's Office has responded to 0 burglaries, but five reports of open doors or alarms set off.

One incident that concerned law enforcement was a recent attempted break-in at a dispensary. In May, Reno police released surveillance footage of a man suspected of trying to burglarize a Reno cannabis dispensary, Sierra Well, on Second Street. The man backed a stolen car into the outside doors, and, after gaining entry, the man quickly left. He was unable to enter the next set of doors, police said.

Most police agencies do not have 24-7 remote access to marijuana establishment security video, including the Sheriff's Office, Solferino said, though taxation officials noted that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department recently used live video surveillance to apprehend burglars at a dispensary.

Are schools seeing more children using pot products?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: The difference is slight.

Statewide, an average of 37 percent of high school students have used marijuana at some point in their lives, according to the 2017 Nevada Youth Risk Behavior Survey. That's down from 39 percent in 2015.

School discipline records tell another story, though records do not specify what kind of drugs students are using.

During the past three years, more than 2,000 students have been suspended or expelled each year for possession or use of controlled substances (2,129 during the 2016-17 school year, 2,103 the year prior and 2,050 two years prior). In prior years, the number has been lower than 2,000.

"I think it’s early to sound the alarm bell or not sound the alarm bell. We simply don’t want kids using any mind-altering substances while their brains are still developing," said Christy McGill, director of safe and respectful learning environments for the state.

Some counties, for instance, saw their numbers drop. In Washoe County, during the 2016-2017 school year, 397 students were suspended or expelled for possession or use of a controlled substance. That's down from 514 students during the 2015-2016 school year and 484 during the year prior.

Are hospitals seeing more patients with pot-related issues?

Short answer: It's relatively insignificant.

Long answer: The most recent data shows that in 2017, 102 people have gone to Nevada hospitals for what medical professionals have deemed "marijuana poisoning," which include any number of symptoms caused by consumption of marijuana.

The Nevada Department of Health said that the increases are relatively insignificant.

Notably, there was a 67 percent increase for kids 14 years and younger reporting marijuana poisoning symptoms from 2016 to 2017. Meanwhile, adults between 25 and 64 saw a 125 percent increase of marijuana poisoning from 2016 to 2017, according to the state.

None of these "poisonings" were fatal. The signs of using too much marijuana are similar to the typical effects of using marijuana but more severe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These signs may include extreme confusion, anxiety, paranoia, panic, fast heart rate, delusions or hallucinations, increased blood pressure, and severe nausea or vomiting. In some cases, these reactions can lead to unintentional injury such as a motor vehicle crash, fall, or poisoning.

How much money has the state made in the past year from pot taxes?

Short answer: About $56 million.

Long answer: Just in the past week, tax revenues from marijuana hit — and exceeded— the amount that was projected for the entire fiscal year, with two months of collections still to go, according to the Nevada Department of Taxation's most recent report.

Marijuana tax revenues from July 2017 through April 2018 totaled about $56 million, 110 percent of what was projected for all of fiscal year 2018. Both taxes that contribute to that total have substantially outperformed projections.

Through the first ten months of the fiscal year, total taxable sales — the taxes collected in the Silver State are up $1.96 billion from the same period a year ago. Over the same period, marijuana-related sales are up $338 million. In other words, the launch of the adult-use industry accounts for a bit more than 17 percent of the overall growth in Nevada’s taxable sales base so far this fiscal year.

How much money goes to the schools?

Short answer: Waiting to find out

Long answer: Everyone wants to know how much money the schools are getting.

The schools are on track to receive upwards of $12 million if current estimates stick (That's $21 million from the wholesale marijuana tax so far, minus the $5 million that went to local governments and $4 million expected to go to the state for program costs).

Funds for the schools will be divided between schools based on the number of students at each.

The retail marijuana tax, which is paid by consumers on adult-use marijuana purchases (not medical), has generated just over $34 million fiscal year to date. Some lawmakers have expressed putting that money towards schools as well, though legislation will likely be required to remove the revenue from the state's Rainy Day Fund.

What has happened to the black market?

Short answer: It's alive and well.

Long answer: Although the suffocation of the black market was a prime motivator for legalization advocates, the black market seems to be equally fierce since legalization began.

"It’s still pervasive because the cost (of marijuana) is lower on the black market. They don’t pay taxes, security, they don’t pay for regulation, for overhead. It’s going to take law enforcement time and resources to regulate the black market," said Riana Durrett, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association.

Most of the dealers on the black market are not from the area, Durrett said, noting that a lot of illegal product is coming from California. However, this may dry up as California implements new regulations effective July 1 of this year.

The legal industry is robust with about 75 percent of establishments under Nevada leadership, Durrett said, employing about 6,800 Nevadans in the recreational market.

While Nevada seems to have struck a balance of supply and demand, Durrett cautions that the state is still smoothing out kinks and figuring out how best to regulate the legal market so as not to fuel the illegal one.

How have medical marijuana patients been affected?

Short answer: Those who remain are not entirely content.

Long answer: The medical marijuana market thus far has shrunk from approximately 27,000 registered patients in Nevada at its peak to about 18,000, according to Anderson, of the state taxation department.

Some patients have deemed the retail market more conducive to their needs, he said.

Medical marijuana advocate Mona Lisa Samuelson, however, argues that the new market was the "worst thing" to happen to patients who need cannabis for their respective ailments.

While access to medical marijuana cards has become less costly and many dispensaries offer discounts to patients, access to certain strains has become pressing at times, Samuelson said.

Medical patients also are uncertain of the quality of the products since -- despite the state's testing for mold, pesticides and other toxins -- the tests do not test for all toxins.

"Would (the patients) love to go to the dispensaries and know that the product is safe?

Absolutely. It’s just already too profitable. To change policy, that would hurt their policy return," said Samuelson, of Las Vegas. "Since recreational, the very day that it passed, the patients were no longer of concern."

Many patients grow their own product illegally despite the risk, Samuelson said.

What has happened to the price of pot?

Short answer: There's no official record of changes since July last year

Long answer: Neither the industry nor the state has tracked the retail price of pot products, one of the most volatile variants in other markets, and one of the most common competitive advantages of the black market.

The Department of Taxation is going to begin tracking the retail cost of various products, Anderson said, in an effort to better understand where the legal market stands next to the black market.

To control supply and demand, the state has the ability to limit the cultivation and production of cannabis, as well as the ability to limit the distribution of licenses.

Dispensary licenses, however, are the only licenses that are currently limited on a statewide level. Of the 132 available dispensary licenses, about half are currently being used statewide.

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