Nevada voters approved medical marijuana by initiative in 2000 and adult use in the same way in 2016. The adult use market opened on January 1, 2017, and business in Las Vegas and Reno is good. In rural Nevada, however, the story is different.

Only Clark, Nye, Storey, and Washoe counties voted for legalization. Washoe county includes Reno, the small county of Storey includes Virginia City, Nye includes the tourist destination Pahrump, and Clark includes Las Vegas. Since legalization, however, marijuana business license opportunities outside the larger cities have gone unclaimed. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “Representatives in Churchill, Douglas, Elko, Pershing, and Storey counties and in Elko” have told the newspaper that “they either have ordinances on their books that prohibit marijuana sales locally or have not seen any interest in local sales.” Some rural counties have allowed medical dispensaries, however.

Resistance to rural dispensaries

The Marijuana Retail Report (MRR) states: “It is no secret that the rural counties in Nevada have been slow to accept marijuana sales. As a result, dispensaries are currently operating in only five of Nevada’s seventeen counties.” Currently, MRR says that nearly all dispensaries serve the Las Vegas and Reno areas: Clark County (Las Vegas) has “up to 80 stores,” Washoe County (Reno) has “up to 20 stores,” and Carson City has four. While the remaining counties, which are mostly rural, can have up to two dispensaries each under the current licensing plan, many local governments continue to ban adult use dispensaries, and medical licenses have gone unclaimed.

MRR indicates that “There is a narrow opportunity for expansion into the rural counties” before the end of the year, however. Thanks to a recently passed law, an incorporated city in a county with a population of less than 100,000 can claim one dispensary license. Two cities have announced plans to license dispensaries that will include medical service. The Las Vegas Review-Journal also indicates that in Humboldt County, an attorney in Winnemucca is attempting to gain approval of a “marijuana business despite a 2017 ordinance prohibiting growth and sales.”

The newspaper suggests that rural Nevada’s culture may explain why marijuana has not found a welcome. In Elko, which has a legal brothel, for example, Elko City Manager Curtis Calder is quoted as saying: “I have heard of marriage lost at a brothel,” Karr said. “But not addictions.” Although Nevada’s Mormon population has been in decline, the church’s influence lingers. In addition, rural and urban Nevada are in sharp cultural contrast. While voters in Las Vegas carried the state for Hillary Clinton in 2016, Nevada’s rural population remains Republican. As the Review-Journal observes, outside of the state’s larger cities:

The rest of Nevada was Trump country. The catch: Those vast rural swaths of the state contained just 13.2 percent of the 1.12 million ballots cast in Nevada’s presidential race….“We’re slowly becoming very similar to California,” said Assemblyman Ira Hansen, a Republican from Sparks in northern Nevada. “Rural people in general and native Nevadans like myself tend to be very conservative or even libertarian.”

The marijuana business has been good for the state government’s coffers. In the 2018 fiscal year, marijuana taxes brought $69.8 million in revenue, with $27.5 million going to schools. While the recreational market in Nevada’s cities is well-established, the rural area remains a difficult place for marijuana businesses. Given the culture of the rural part of the state, it seems unlikely that the situation will change anytime soon.

What do you think? Will rural Nevadans come to embrace the bud? Leave a comment below.

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