Committee aims to maintain integrity in dealing with marijuana

Committee aims to maintain integrity in dealing with marijuana

November 07, 2017 3:00 AM


The strain has become evident as gaming officials struggle to deal with the booming demand for marijuana in Nevada amid a mass of conflicting state and federal rules.

The feds still consider the use of weed a felony and there is no indication this attitude will be reversed in the near future. Nevada gaming officials have been doing what they can to work things out in a way that will satisfy the businesses and entrepreneurs who know an opportunity when they see one.

As with so many hot button issues there is probably no satisfying everyone. The intent of officials: keep a laser-like focus on what they believe is good for gaming.

The issue will get further attention near the end of November when Gov. Brian Sandoval’s gaming policy committee is expected to hold it’s next meeting in Las Vegas. The governor decided to call committee members together following a recent meeting of the Gaming Commission when Commission members discussed the lack of clarity on the use or promotion of what federal policy says is a schedule one drug.

No one involved in the regulation of the state’s casinos wants any more attention from the federal government than they are already getting, so the casino industry acted quickly when marijuana was approved for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

But the search for loopholes continues and was the basis for the recent discussion among commissioners and A.G.Burnett and Terry Johnson, the chairman and member, respectfully of the State Gaming Control Board.

Commissioner Randolph Townsend said, “We do not want to invite federal intervention to a greater degree than we already have.” State officials have spent the last seventy-some years with a mind toward avoiding that kind of attention-getting behavior among licensees. The arrival of marijuana for recreational purposes means the issue is getting more attention.

Has anyone picked up the phone for a quick chat with Atty. General Jeff Sessions, the conservative Alabama Republican and senator who is no friend of casino interests?

The answer to that appears to be no, but it is hard to be certain because avoiding unnecessary attention can be a first step toward avoiding further intervention.

On other hand, Sessions may have already made up his mind. A source familiar with the still-developing marijuana story says Sessions has confided he will have to take “another look” at a memo that came out of the Obama administration advising federal officials to not waste their resources on marijuana cases unless there was evidence of organized crime or money laundering.

Some of the Commission members are alert to the possibility that there are authorities living and working in areas like Washington who find it easy to go after gaming. Attitudes are changing and fresh thinking is apparent. It was not so long ago that any use of marijuana in Nevada was sufficient to get the attention of local authorities.

But Washington’s attention has seldom been helpful to the gaming business.

And there is the “will of the people to consider,” Commissioner John Moran said, “We have to recognize that the legislature passed the law” and it can’t be changed – assuming lawmakers and voters want to – for another two years. Gaming regulators cannot take action that conflicts with the law.

In the meantime commissioners appear to be speaking with one voice, a voice that warns licensees of the consequences should they decide the marijuana business looks good to them. The first month of sales at licensed outlets in the state totaled $27 million. Analysts expect monthly totals will climb.

Commissioner Deborah Fuetsch uses her banking background to help her conclude, “I believe the gaming and marijuana are separate and distinct and should not be crossed.” Having a major marijuana-related convention at a casino property would say the “wrong thing” to people whose attention is not wanted.

Townsend agreed saying, “There is no upside to a handful of dollars” that might come from such a convention.”

Maintaining the integrity of Nevada’s biggest industry is what’s important.