Nevada may show marijuana criteria

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada faces complaints about secrecy in awarding licenses to sell marijuana in the state’s booming legal marketplace, boiling over into lawsuits and legislation that appear poised to pry open the process.

Several companies have sued the state tax department, arguing that no one knows for sure the criteria officials use to award new licenses. They complain the state releases no information about who seeks and receives permission to sell cannabis to adults, many of them tourists, in the nearly 2-year-old market.

They will ask a judge Monday to freeze the granting of marijuana dispensary licenses, at least temporarily, until the courts decide whether it’s “arbitrary and capricious and violates the constitution,” one lawsuit says.

The hearing will focus on a second wave of dispensaries approved in December to open into an evolving regulatory environment where local lawmakers are considering allowing pot lounges on or near the Las Vegas Strip.

The companies say Nevada unconstitutionally picked winners and losers from 462 applicants for 61 new dispensary, cultivation, laboratory and production licenses.

“Licenses that admit a select few to such a lucrative enterprise must be made in a way that is open and transparent,” said attorney Vincent Savarese, who wrote the constitutional challenge on behalf of Serenity Wellness Center and 10 other companies that were turned away.

“The point is to remove the marijuana trade from criminal enterprises, cartels and mobsters and street dealers, and to ensure that they don’t have participation in the legal marijuana industry,” he said.

The court arguments come days after the state Senate unanimously passed a measure to let officials release taxpayer information now labeled confidential. The proposal heads next to the Assembly.

Plans are underway to release the names of all applicants and licensees once the measure becomes law, said Ky Plaskon, spokesman for the state Department of Taxation, which regulates the licensing process.

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Friday acknowledged “the frustrations of many marijuana license applicants with the current licensing process” and endorsed the legislation that he said “would shed light on the methodology used … in granting licenses.”

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