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West Wendover is officially ready for a medical marijuana dispensary – now all the city has to do is wait for interested businesses to apply.
The City Council voted 4-to-1 on Tuesday in favor of an ordinance allowing a marijuana dispensary to open within its borders, the city's clerk confirmed. The Nevada city – on Utah's western border about 120 miles from Salt lake City – will soon accept bids from businesses interested in building and operating the facility, once the ordinance takes effect in mid-August.
The dispensary will be located in the city's industrial area, city clerk Anna Bartlome said, as the location meets state requirements barring proximity to churches, schools and residential areas.
Councilwoman Jasie Holm cast the lone opposing vote, reportedly over concerns about limiting the dispensary to West Wendover's industrial park. Councilman John Hanson said he supported the location as it allows city residents who don't favor medical marijuana to avoid being exposed to it daily.
Mayor Daniel Corona said on Wednesday that the ordinance's approval shows how far West Wendover has come in embracing the potential of marijuana commerce.
Just a year ago, when the first medical dispensaries began opening in Nevada, West Wendover's elected leaders "didn't want to deal with it," Corona said. "So they put it on the back burner."
"Even though we are a year behind the rest of the state," the mayor said Wednesday, "we have made great strides."
Under state law, Bartlome said West Wendover is only allowed one dispensary given its resident population of around 5,000. The ordinance also stipulates that the dispensary's owner must already own and operate a similar businesses elsewhere in Nevada – a requirement Corona said will let the city to work with owners who already understand the business.
City staff is now creating application guidelines, deadlines and other details to give to businesses once the ordinance is in place. Bartlome said those guidelines will be subject to City Council approval before mid-August.
Corona hopes the dispensary will be built and ready for business by the start of 2018.
Although the ordinance approved Tuesday is specific to medical marijuana, Corona said he intended to work with council members toward approval of recreational marijuana by the time the medical dispensary is set to open.
Although there aren't specific details on the structure of recreational marijuana in West Wendover, Corona said it could potentially be purchased at the same dispensary – a practice used in other Nevada cities such as Mesquite.
In 2013, Nevada lawmakers passed a measure allowing cities to pass zoning and land-use ordinances for marijuana-based businesses. As of mid-March, there were about 55 medical dispensaries in Nevada, which can sell marijuana to those with registration cards from at least 25 states, according to the state's Division of Public and Behavioral Health.
Despite the West Wendover dispensary being only a 90-minute drive away from Utah's main population center, a Utah Medical Association official said it is still against federal law for Utah doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to state residents.
Nothing would prohibit a Utah doctor from referring a patient to another provider who might help with meeting Nevada's requirements, however, the official added.
It would remain illegal to bring prescribed cannabis across the Utah line. Although he does not condone Utah residents transporting medical marijuana across state lines, Corona said it isn't West Wendover's responsibility to make sure people are abiding by those laws.
According to current federal law, authorities cannot block states from creating medical marijuana laws, protecting patients, caregivers and businesses from prosecution. That law, however, expires Sept. 30 and would need reauthorization from Congress.
In late June, activists in Utah submitted a ballot initiative to put marijuana legalization to a vote in November 2018. Utah lawmakers, meanwhile, have taken up the issue of legalizing medical marijuana several times.
During its most recent general sessions, the state Legislature decided against legalizing medical marijuana given uncertainty surrounding federal enforcement of marijuana laws under the Trump administration.
Instead, state lawmakers passed measures to fund research in Utah into marijuana's potential benefits.
In 2016, state lawmakers came close to legalizing medical marijuana with two dueling bills, but a compromise proposal failed in the legislative session's final hours when it was discovered that no money had been set aside to implement the program.
A Utah law passed in 2014 allowing Utahns with severe epilepsy to import whole-plant cannabidiol extracts from states with legalized medical marijuana. The Utah Department of Health now issues hemp extract registration cards to qualified patients, with 166 cards approved between July 2014 and Oct. 2016.
As of April, 29 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana in some way, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.