On Monday, the Sparks City Council held the second reading and public hearing about an ordinance to amend Title 5 of the Sparks Municipal Code to allow medical marijuana facilities to cultivate, test and sell recreational marijuana at retail. After a lengthy discussion from council members and public comment, the city council approved the ordinance in a 3-2 vote.
A few city council members such as Charlene Bybee and Kristopher Dahir struggled with not knowing the financial impact of allowing recreational marijuana sales based on the revenues received.
“If we were to approve this, how will we know how much it will cost to increase law enforcement or staffing if the budget for this year is already set?” Bybee asked.
The ordinance allows medical marijuana dispensaries to pay a one-time business application fee of $5,000 and then be charged an additional 3 percent of gross receipts from its previous quarter. City Manager Steve Driscoll replied that the city doesn’t anticipate any additional costs, but if any unplanned expenditures arise then they can look at how the revenues received from the dispensaries can offset it.
“I have truly wrestled with this,” says Councilman Dahir. “There are too many unknowns which goes against Sparks being a family-friendly, safe place. I am opposed to passing this,” he adds.
Six people who spoke out in public comment were also opposed, concerned about it being a gateway drug, too accessible to children, and illegal at the federal level.
“If you approve this then the stoners will take over and that will destroy Sparks,” said Sparks resident Gerard Mager. However, a few people also spoke in favor of the ordinance.
“Marijuana has been legal in Nevada since January 1,” says Nevada Medical Marijuana Association Executive Director Will Adler. “I have heard all of these contradictions and problems but people can still buy marijuana in Reno and come back and use it in their homes in Sparks. There’s a lot of talk about what marijuana is or isn’t, but at the end of the day it’s legal in Nevada,” he adds.
There was also a question of what was truly passed in last November’s election regarding Measure 2 and Councilwoman Bybee said that although the majority of Nevada voters were in favor of it, they actually voted it down in Ward 4, the area of Sparks that Bybee represents.
“The voters said no (in Ward 4) and I have an obligation to them. The only benefit I see is the money. I know we have some great businessmen in the room, but I don’t agree with the business. Why would we want to approve something that increases costs for code enforcement, policing and staff?” she asks.
City Councilman Ed Lawson chimed in, saying that Sparks currently has three dispensaries which are all in the industrial area and easily enforceable. To all of the people concerned about people toking up in public areas, Lawson encourages them to call it in.
“It’s a $600 fine to consume it in public and you should call it in if you see that activity going on,” he says. “I would think that a few $600 fines here and there would cause someone who engages in that activity to change their ways,” he adds.
“A Nevadan wants to be free. To me this is much ado about nothing and do we really need government stepping in? This is something Nevadans voted on,” says Lawson. “I think we’ve got three great business owners who are willing to test the market for us.”
Councilman Ron Smith added, “We live and die by the vote. Four out of five wards voted in favor of this. I don’t personally agree, but I will support this because it’s what my constituents want”.
Following the council’s 3-2 vote, Sparks resident Gerard Mager got up in the last public comment session and stated, “I’m disgusted by the (City Council) vote; the people of Nevada weren’t qualified to vote on this issue.”
However, local marijuana dispensary owners are singing a much different tune.
When retail marijuana sales became legal as of July 1 in Nevada, Greenleaf Vice President Steve Duque says the dispensary fielded around 200-300 questions from people walking in and calling, eager to buy cannabis products without a medical marijuana card. Duque is in favor of how the ordinance works in regards to retail marijuana sales.
“Our family has been doing business in Sparks for over 20 years; the City is very business-oriented. With the City it’s predictable in what transactions will cost you,” he adds.
“I’m very grateful that they represented the constituency. Tomorrow morning we will get the (new business) application. After we turn it in, it still needs to be approved by the state and the City of Sparks, but hopefully we will be ready to go by Friday or Saturday.”