Commissioners Nix Study on Pot Lounges
Pot lounges will not be a part of unincorporated Washoe County anytime soon, after the Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 against a study into the social clubs.
Pot lounges will not be a part of unincorporated Washoe County anytime soon, after the Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 against a study into the social clubs. Commissioners Kitty Jung and Marsha Berkbigler voted in favor of the motion, which would have directed staff to conduct a study on the impact of pot lounges.
"I don't want to sit up here, speculating, finding all the reasons why this could go wrong or right," Jung said. "I want staff to do their due diligence."
Berkbigler says she does not support legal recreational marijuana but supports the efforts to study the impacts of pot lounges.
"Any time we as a county, we as an elected government have the opportunity to study things that are going to impact our citizens, we should take that opportunity," Berkbigler said.
Shannon Dobbs is a Sparks resident who uses medicinal marijuana. He supports the allowance of marijuana use in places like concerts or lounges, saying clear regulations are necessary for people like him.
"My problem is if I want to go dancing with my wife, see a band, go up to hang out in the river, downtown, if I want to go up to the lake, if I want to go anywhere in our area, I'm not legal," Dobbs said.
Commissioners Vaughn Hartung, Bob Lucey and Jeanne Herman opposed the motion, saying pot lounges could stress law enforcement and create public safety issues.
"I just don't think law enforcement has enough information and I'm concerned with people driving while intoxicated," Hartung said.
The lack of public transportation in places like Washoe Valley, Sun Valley and Lemon Valley were concerns for Lucey.
"We do not have mass transit out there," Lucey said. "You do not see taxi cabs driving in front of these places."
Some argue that pot lounges would be a benefit to the hospitality industry. Visitors have the ability to buy recreational marijuana in Washoe County but they do not have anywhere to use it, since people can only use pot in a private residence. The hotel industry says it does not want marijuana use on its property, but some say lounges would reduce issues related to people smoking weed in hotel rooms, sometimes resulting in damage fees for the visitor.
"This needs to be focused in the downtown area where tourism is focused," Lucey said. "Not out in our unincorporated area."
The state senate passed a bill that would allow marijuana use in public places like lounges or special events but it did not get a vote in the assembly. A similar bill will likely be on tap during next year's legislative session. Jung says it is better for the county to get ahead of state regulations, while others are waiting for guidance from state lawmakers.
"It is a big, new industry," Will Adler, Executive Director of the Sierra Cannabis Coalition said. "Social clubs could take off or they could be a headache and Washoe County is simply looking at it as 'We don't want to be the first to try this'. There is a desire to come up with a solution but without some sort of state backbone, it is going to be difficult to get that at a local level."
While a lot of the regulatory talk centers on tourists and tax revenue, Dobbs says it is the residents who should be considered first.
"It's much more important to focus on the residents, on the people that voted this in, in the first place, and that really are expecting and are hoping that our policy-makers are going to make common sense decisions," Dobbs said.
The Board of County Commissioners did vote 5-0 to revisit the study in the future.
"Nobody is saying pull the trigger," Jung said. "Everybody's saying all the issues and the conundrums that you are thinking of and speculating about, which could be valid or could not be valid. We don't know."
"It's important to always keep the conversation on the table," Hartung said. "If people want this, I understand that but I will not put the public's safety at risk."
The commissioners also unanimously approved permanent regulations for recreational marijuana. It includes a three percent fee for dispensaries and cultivation facilities, and extends store hours to midnight.