Med marijuana card life may be extended; lawmakers try to smoke out plan for pot money

UPDATED, 4:30 PM, 1/24/17

Nevada medical marijuana cards may soon be valid for more than just 1 year.

Nevada medical marijuana cards must be renewed each year, but state officials say they’re open to extending that timeline to two or more years.

Joe Pollock of the Division of Public and Behavioral Health told lawmakers at a budget hearing on Tuesday that his office thinks an extension is reasonable, and wants to explore the idea as the state tweaks its marijuana laws in the upcoming legislative session.

Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards had asked about extending the timeline, saying the one-year period is a hassle for rural residents who have to set up doctor’s appointments and drive to town to get their card renewed.

The potential policy change comes on the heels of Nevada voters legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults. That’s expected to expand the legal user base far beyond the approximately 25,000 people who hold an active Nevada medical marijuana card.

ORIGINAL POST

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget depends on nearly $100 million in revenue from marijuana over the next two years, but Nevada officials said Tuesday that they haven’t heard from the Trump Administration on whether it will start enforcing federal law and shut the practice down.

Sandoval’s budget anticipates $99.2 million over the next two years for the Distributive School Account, the state’s main K-12 education account. That includes fees, a 15 percent wholesale tax on marijuana and a proposed 10 percent retail tax on recreational marijuana, plus taxes and fees on medical marijuana.

Although the Obama Administration didn’t enforce a federal marijuana prohibition and stood by while states such as Nevada legalized the substance, a crackdown under the Trump Administration is still a possibility.

Lawmakers at a Legislative Commission Budget Subcommittee hearing on Tuesday also raised other questions about how marijuana affects the governor’s $8.1 billion budget proposal.

Republican Assemblywoman Robin Titus asked how confident the state is that it will meet its revenue projections. State budget director Jim Wells and Sandoval’s chief of staff Mike Willden said they developed their projections based on estimates from the marijuana industry, information from Colorado after that state legalized recreational marijuana and estimates of how much pot Nevada residents and guests would buy.

To account for delays in collecting the tax revenue and getting dispensaries up and running, they’re counting on 65 percent of that projected revenue to roll in in the first year of the budget and 85 percent to roll in during the second year.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford asked whether the $99 million going to schools from marijuana taxes and fees supplants funds the state would have otherwise put into education from its general fund, or whether it means overall K-12 education funding will grow.

Wells and Willden said the marijuana taxes would reduce the amount the state must put into the DSA, but noted that Sandoval plans to put about $200 million more in general funds per year toward the DSA compared with how much the state contributed in the fiscal year that ended mid-June.

Ford says he still has questions about how the marijuana money affects school funding that he hopes to get answered in future budget hearings.

“I want to be sure that’s new money in the DSA and not supplanting money ... The idea is to increase revenue, and increase it by the amount that marijuana revenues are bringing in -- not by any lesser amount,” he said. “I don’t want them to say $70 million can go to ESAs (Education Savings Accounts) now.”

The new revenue stream comes after Nevada legalized recreational marijuana use for adults through a statewide ballot question. The Nevada Department of Taxation expects it will license its first recreational pot dispensaries by the summer of 2017.

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This post has been updated to include comment from Sen. Aaron Ford.

Photo courtesy of Coleen Elliott under Creative Commons.