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Early Recreational Marijuana Sales in Nevada Will Likely Be Delayed

A judge ruled earlier this week that only liquor distributors qualify to sell marijuana under the “early start” program.

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Nevada was expected to launch early recreational marijuana sales at the beginning of next month, but it appears some snags brought on by the alcohol industry could cause delays.

On Tuesday, a Carson City judge handed down a verdict that prevents the state from issuing commercial marijuana licenses to any business other than those engaged in the sale of liquor. The ruling, which technically puts the fate of legal marijuana in the hands of only a few alcohol distributors, could easily prevent recreational marijuana from being sold starting on July 1.

When Nevada voters approved an initiative last year aimed at legalizing marijuana for recreational use, they gave the state’s alcohol distributors exclusive rights to the market for the first year and a half. However, state officials say that most of these companies had expressed little to no interest in getting involved with legal marijuana.

In fact, it wasn’t until am “early start” program was signed into law by Governor Brian Sandoval, giving select medical marijuana dispensaries the ability to sell recreational marijuana starting on July 1, that the Independent Alcohol Distributors of Nevada started raising hell about their 18-month exclusivity requirement.

According to the verdict handed down by Judge James Wilson, alcohol wholesalers could potentially be banned from the cannabis industry altogether if not given the exclusive opportunity to sell marijuana, as outlined under the voter approved Question 2.

“Plaintiff’s members will very likely be shut out of the marijuana distribution business entirely if the Department issues distribution licenses to non-alcohol distributors,” Wilson said in Tuesday’s ruling. “Thus Plaintiff has demonstrated that, absent injunctive relief, it is likely to suffer irreparable harm.”

The Nevada Department of Taxation said it is reviewing the court's decision and exploring all legal means possible to ensure early recreational marijuana sales are up and running by next month.

The only problem, according to department spokesman Stephanie Klapstein, is “we do not have any qualified liquor wholesale dealers to license as marijuana distributors at this time.”

"We hope for a quick response from those who are seeking exclusivity in marijuana distribution," she added. "We are committed to ensuring that the vote of the people to provide for the legal purchase of marijuana from a strictly regulated market will proceed on July 1."

So far, the state has not issued a single license to businesses interested in early recreational marijuana sales.