As Nevada prepared to open its first adult-use cannabis stores on July 1, Leafly caught up with Leslie Bocskor, the Las Vegas investment banker and founding chairman of the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association. An early member of the ArcView Investor Network, Bocskor was recently named vice chairman of GB Sciences, a cannabis-based pharmaceutical research firm based in Las Vegas.
Leafly: What does recreational cannabis mean for Nevada?
Bocskor: It means we’re going to see a gradual end of the black market.
It’s great for business. It’s great for tax revenue. It’s great for compassionate access for people who aren’t even getting medical marijuana.
Getting it out of the black market, though, is the heart of it. By having a regulated market, we’re making sure that we’re not sending money out of the country to criminal organizations. That’s what resonates for me.
Can Nevada be a model for recreational cannabis in America?
People regard the Nevada framework as the best regulatory framework in the world. Nevada has a history regulating things other jurisdictions don’t — gaming, mixed martial arts, prostitution and escort services.
Nevada’s cannabis regulatory framework has been implemented in such a commonsense way. Testing for medical and recreational is the same. Colorado medical is not tested, but recreational is tested. Nevada has the most stringent testing: testing for microbial contamination, biological contamination, mold, mildew, fungus, heavy metals, pesticides, fungicides in parts per million and parts per billion. It’s the cleanest cannabis that’s ever been produced because of the testing regulations. If our food was tested as stringently as Nevada cannabis is tested, we’d have less food borne illnesses than we do.
Regulating cannabis is not like handling plutonium. Recreational cannabis is not going to cause the world to open up and start swallowing people. It’s going to be an enormous positive for Nevada. It’s going to be an enormous positive for all of the tourists that come here. And since we get tourists from all over the world, it will also be a way for other markets to see what legal, well-regulated cannabis can look like.
Nevada’s early-start recreational cannabis sales arrive with a rocky backstory, including a lawsuit to compel licensing of alcohol distributors and an emergency order by the governor that tightened regulations in order to start recreational sales. Doesn’t Question 2, the voter ballot initiative that legalized cannabis in 2016, already chart the course?
There’s so much confusion around this and there doesn’t need to be.
The ballot initiative did not specify a need [or mechanism] for fast-track implementation. The state began fast track implementation because having adult use legal, while not having a regulated infrastructure to provide the products to the consumers who want it, would create a larger black market.
The ballot initiative specified that regulation would be finalized by January, 2018. Somewhere along the way there was some confusion. [People mistakenly believed that] implementing fast track adult use meant implementing all measures of the ballot initiative at the same time. That is not true. You do not need to implement distributors under fast track because fast track was not what the ballot initiative called for. You need to implement distributors only under the ballot initiative language, which will take hold in 2018.
Why does the state want to fast track distribution licenses if the potential distributors aren’t yet ready to handle the business?
The state mistakenly started to pursue having distributors as part of fast track implementation. State officials didn’t understand that it was not necessary.
Then a court got involved and said the alcohol distributors who were given the opportunity, in the language of the ballot initiative, to apply for distribution licenses were not given enough time to go through application process to be part of fast track, which is true. But there is no mandate for them to be part of fast track.
This court holdup doesn’t need to happen. We can still give the distributors licenses in a normal time period in 2018, even as we let existing medical cannabis distributors serve adult-use consumers under the fast track implementation system.
Once everybody realizes that, the whole thing goes away — the emergency order, the lawsuit, everything disappears as soon as all of stakeholders realize this is not necessary right now, that it is not mandated by the ballot initiative. This idea that distributors are necessary in fast track is a fallacy.
You praise Nevada’s regulatory framework. Does Nevada risk anything with these last-minute machinations?
Every jurisdiction that’s legalized cannabis has had fits and starts. Will Nevada look foolish? Every time you watch the sausage-making happen it looks messy. If we look at how Nevada implemented medical and how methodical and steady it was in the process, it ended up working very, very well.
One of the most progressive aspects of Nevada’s medical cannabis regulations is reciprocity, which allows medical cannabis patients from other states to purchase cannabis in Nevada dispensaries. Is reciprocity a success?
If you just measure it as an experience for consumers, it’s the best experience they’ll have in any jurisdiction.
States like Florida and Hawaii that have a fairly robust tourist industry, how they could not implement reciprocity as part of their programs is incomprehensible to me. How can you tell the tourists who are traveling to your jurisdiction — a cancer patient who’s traveling between their chemotherapy sessions, someone who suffers from MS and uses cannabis every day to manage their peripheral neuropathy, or someone who suffers from PTSD and uses it to deal with anxiety — that we’re going to force you to choose either not to come here, or to commit a crime by flying with cannabis, or forcing you to go to the black market? The reciprocity that Nevada implemented is just sound policy.
Nevada relies on out-out-state and international money to keep its economy rolling. The state welcomed outside investors in state cannabis businesses. Is that also a big difference?
Colorado and Washington said, “We’re going set up a legal marijuana industry but we’re not going to allow anyone from outside of the state to invest in it. They have to be citizens of this state.”
On its face it sounds good for the people of Washington and Colorado. But it’s not. It caused all sorts of mischief. People found work-arounds. It also created a problem in limiting the amount of capital and the number of good actors who could come in. It’s actually been worse for the citizens of those states than if they had allowed outside investors. Both Washington and Colorado have started to change to allow outside investment. Nevada allowed outside investment, along with reciprocity, from the beginning. These types of things are just common sense.
Does Nevada risk being over-regulated?
When was the last time you heard of a patron being cheated in a Nevada casino? It doesn’t happen. Nevada is the platinum standard globally for regulating casinos. If you have a Nevada unlimited gaming license, that speaks volumes. They say that it’s easier to become a Secret Service agent protecting the President of the United States than it is to become a Nevada unlimited gaming license holder. The vetting process is extremely comprehensive.
The same thing was applied in giving licenses for medical marijuana and now adult use. I know someone who ultimately got a license but the background check uncovered that when he was in college he got a DUI. This is a 50-year-old man! That held up the approval of his medical marijuana operators license. He had to explain himself.
Nevada is extremely diligent in the “persons of good character” acid test to make sure that the people who are going to operate these business are people of character who are going to make the right decisions, that they’re not going to make short-term decisions based on greed, that they’re not going to divert product out of state or sell to minors. The Nevada gaming industry is so well run and is such a successful industry because the regulation has been handled so well. We’re seeing the same thing here with cannabis.