After hearing from law enforcement officers, school officials and residents, Douglas County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday for a moratorium on medical marijuana establishments.
The moratorium lasts 180 days, but can be extended another six months.
Commissioners also indicated they may like to consider opting out of the state legislation which takes effect April 1.
The moratorium was proposed, according to a staff report prepared by Deputy District Attorney Cynthea Gregory and Dirk Goering of community development, “to allow the county a reasonable and responsible amount of time to evaluate and assess: the Division of Public Health and Behavioral Health final regulations and application process; legal considerations; and the potential impacts on the county’s residents and community resources.”
The legislation, Senate Bill 374, allows medical marijuana establishments for the first time to be an allowable use and locate within the state.
Based on population, Douglas County has the potential for one dispensary.
Gregory emphasized that the moratorium was not a decision on allowing or prohibiting medical marijuana establishments or a ban on current use of medical marijuana.
The regulations have not yet been adopted by the state and are only in draft form.
“We can’t do a lot until we know the final product from the state,” said Commissioner Nancy McDermid.
“The state doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing,” said Commissioner Greg Lynn. “We’re expected to put a moratorium on this structure that looks like Swiss cheese to me.”
Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini and Capt. John Milby asked the board to impose the moratorium.
“We really strongly support the moratorium and that you take the time to assess the impact of this on our community and quality of life,” Milby said.
Pierini said the county needs to be well educated about the state law and local implications.
“Every time I go to a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) graduation — and I go to them all — I wonder what message we as adults are sending to our kids,” Pierini said.
Businessman Al Shankle said, “It’s important to slow it down, whether we call it a moratorium or not.”
Shankle said he had been researching medical reports, “and I think there is some awfully good research going on.
“Certainly, there are going to be more dispensaries, and the community deserves to have one that is the best, that follows all the laws. Individuals who need medical marijuana should have the opportunity to get it,” Shankle said.
Assistant Superintendent Lyn Gorrindo read a letter from Superintendent Lisa Noonan who was in Las Vegas on Thursday on school business.
“Of all the barriers to student success, the No. 1 threat we see is what drug and alcohol abuse does to a child,” Noonan said.
Since 2010, she said there have been 422 suspensions for drug or alcohol-related offenses, and 41 students have been brought before the board for possible expulsion on marijuana violations.
“I implore you to do everything within your legal authority to keep marijuana as far away as possible from our students for as long as possible,” Noonan said in her letter.
School Board member Sharla Hales told the board “the farther we keep this away from the kids, the better.
It’s a heartbreak to see these kids in expulsion hearings.”
She urged the board to opt out of the program.
Miki Trujillo, principal for the district’s alternative education program, said she feared a dispensary would mean increased accessibility to marijuana.
“When adults have ease in access, the target for marijuana sellers becomes our kids,” Trujillo said.
Others who spoke in favor of the moratorium included Douglas High principal Marty Swisher, Community Development Director Scott Morgan and Scott Shick, county juvenile probation chief.
Shane Johnson, who said he was a nonpracticing physician, said the board was asked to consider medicinal use of marijuana, not recreational.
“They’re (medical marijuana users) are not trying to get high, they’re trying to get well,” Johnson said.
Lynn cautioned against opting out until commissioners have a better idea of what it means.
Commissioner Lee Bonner earned a round of applause when he asked, “If we can opt out of this, what other state laws can we opt out of?”
Commissioner Barry Penzel asked Gregory what would happen if the county opted out.
“There may be some entities challenging your decision,” she said. “There has been some talk if a lot of counties opt out, the Legislature may reconsider.
“With the moratorium in place, you can decide what you want to do,” Gregory said. “You can have the staff come back with what you want to do, then lift the moratorium.”