OPINION – How much clout does the St. George culture hold over the region?
We’ll soon find out as the City Council in Mesquite, Nevada, tackles the sticky issue of medicinal marijuana dispensaries.
Medpot has been legal in Nevada since Oct. 1, 2001, but the push for state-approved dispensaries was slow to take root. It wasn’t until about a year ago that state and local leaders got onboard, usually with some fairly heavy guidelines to ensure that the owners were legit and not affiliated with criminal organizations or activities.
Arizona, on April 14, 2011, also approved medpot, but none are operating in the border towns of Littlefield and Beaver Dam, Arizona.
Instead, those with valid medical marijuana recommendations from their physicians have had to grow their own or deal with illicit suppliers.
Now, however, Colorado, which allows marijuana use for medicinal and recreational purposes, has created a model that is sure to set the course to national legalization in a very short time. There are regulations in place to track the product from seed to sale, restrictions on who can engage in sales and who can buy, and safety measures that are being honed on a regular basis to ensure that no harm comes to those who partake for whatever reason.
For nearly 20 years, Southern Utah had little concern about what was taking place in the advancement of medical marijuana as a viable therapy for a variety of illnesses and the thought of using the herb for recreational purposes was totally out of the question.
Right now, as a matter of fact.
The success of Colorado’s program – in terms of compassionate and financial reward – is turning heads, particularly when governments realize just how much money is on the table through licensing application fees, permits, and tax dollars.
As a result, it will be interesting to see whether the theocracy that is Southern Utah or the financial needs of local government will win out.
Southern Utah’s conservative religious and political beliefs have impacted Mesquite before.
In 1994, there was an adult bookstore, as they were called in those days, that offered a menu of videos and other items that some found objectionable.
A group of Southern Utah residents from Iron and Washington counties picketed the business. The picketing and protests went on for quite some time until the business owner finally shut the doors.
The cause and effect of this was interesting, not to mention hypocritical, when a 2009 study called “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Entertainment” by Harvard Economics professor Benjamin Edelman ranked Utah as No. 1 in the nation for paid porn subscriptions.
But, the city’s financial stake in an adult-oriented business is far less than it would be for a medpot dispensary.
In Las Vegas, for example, the municipality gets a pretty good chunk of money before a dispensary opens its doors.
There is a nonrefundable $5,000 application fee, a $30,000 charge for a dispensary certificate, a $3,000 fee for a cultivation facility permit, a $3,000 registration fee for a facility that manufactures marijuana edibles, and a $5,000 fee to set up an independent testing lab. On top of that, the city takes a 2 percent excise tax (in addition to city sales taxes) and, voilà, there’s about a $50,000 score in fees alone from one dispensary. The cash flow dwindles in subsequent years as all of those registration fees are lowered to more reasonable rates. Still, the yearly fee hit for a dispensary sits at about $10,000 per business.
Mesquite officials seemed to be on the verge of putting off, yet again, a decision on dispensaries when it voted earlier this month to postpone a “technical review” of the issue until January 2015, which would have delayed the application period for a medpot dispensary until August 2015. It was a rather cowardly, yet politically safe, way to deal with a sticky situation.
Later in that meeting, however, the council decided, in the interest of fairness it said, to place the issue on its July 22 agenda.
How fairly the discussion of allowing a medical marijuana dispensary in Mesquite will be is up for grabs.
My gut tells me there will be a lot of moralizing about the evils of the demon weed as the images of reefer madness continue to cloud a certain mindset that science has yet to educate. There is plentiful legitimate research at hand proving the efficacy of marijuana as a source of pain relief, as a way to combat the effects of cancer and HIV/AIDS treatments, and as a substance far safer in terms of pharmacology and addiction properties than alcohol and current prescription pain medications. Whether best-science prevails over the long-held stigma attached to marijuana remains to be seen.
There is also the money factor and, as we all know, money talks, especially when we look at the amounts being raked into the Colorado state coffers where the Great Marijuana Experiment is, by all accounts, a major success in terms of safety, control, enforcement, and, of course, profitability.
Pot smokers in the United States, according to a recent report, spent more than $40 billion on marijuana last year. That’s a fair amount of money and, by odd coincidence, about as much as the nation spends on pizza, although implementing more liberal marijuana laws would, I am sure, ensure a healthy uptick in pizza sales.
Utahns recently went to bat for kids with epilepsy who would find relief through a marijuana derivative, will they stand in the way of others in need of similar relief by exerting influence on the Mesquite City Council or will they do the right thing and show compassion?
I guess we’ll find out on July 22.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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