By Dave Maxwell

Lincoln County Commissioners voted against recreational marijuana on April 1.

On a 3-2 vote, the commissioners adopted an ordinance adding a new section 18 to Chapter 13, section 6 of the Lincoln County Code, prohibiting the permitting of recreational marijuana establishments as a matter of land use throughout the unincorporated areas of Lincoln County.

At the direction of the board, District Attorney Dylan Frehner and Commissioner Nathan Katschke drafted two new sections for the county code to be presented for consideration at the public hearing, one that prohibited marijuana grows in unincorporated areas and one that would permit such establishments.

The county already has an ordinance in place prohibiting establishments from producing medical marijuana.

Caliente, as an incorporated city, has issued permits for commercial recreational marijuana growing and production within the city limits, but not dispensing. The products would have to be shipped for sale elsewhere.

Frehner reviewed the history of the ordinance. He noted in 2016, the voters of Nevada passed Ballot Question 2, known as the “Recreational and Taxation Marijuana Act,” allowing for the recreational use of marijuana within the state for a person over the age of 21 and possessing less than an ounce.

On Jan. 16, 2018, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners passed Ordinance 2018-01, which declared a temporary moratorium on all marijuana establishments contemplated by Ballot Question 2. This prohibited county acceptance and consideration of any and all land-use applications, zoning applications, business license applications, building permit applications and any other applications or requests to operate or otherwise license or permit marijuana establishments. The moratorium was intended to allow the board a reasonable amount of time to thoroughly consider the policy and legal implications of permitting recreational marijuana establishments to exist within the county.

The number of spectators and those who wanted to speak on the matter filled the commission’s chambers to capacity at the April 1 public hearing.

A number of residents spoke in favor of permitting marijuana establishments to be licensed for business in the unincorporated areas of Lincoln County, outside the boundaries of Caliente.

Most all emphasized the economic aspect of having a new industry come into the county. One person likened marijuana “to any other crop, any other business. Plus, it does have a lot of regulations and controls already placed upon it. Very clear and very stringent.”

Another person said they felt the question was not so much a moral one, but rather one of creating jobs to help boost the local economy.

One person felt that Lincoln County needs to permit marijuana grows because “the county is too stagnant and needs more growth and industry.”

Two people spoke in opposition. Based on experiences within their own family, they stated that even recreational marijuana can have a life-changing and permanent negative impact.

After hearing the public comments, commissioners themselves weighed in on the issue.

Commissioners Kevin Phillips, Katschke and Chairman Varlin Higbee voiced opposition to granting permission.

Jared Brackenbury said though he did not support licensing on a moral basis, he was in favor of permitting establishments, as he has mentioned at previous times, “for tax purposes and the economic benefit to the county.”

Bevin Lister said the issue was not moral, regardless of his own personal feelings, but rather about industry, and noted that he felt it was premature to make any decision until more information can be heard from the state legislature, “that is actively working on a number of other bills related to marijuana that are going to change how we have to address it. Wait until the current legislative session has closed.”

Higbee said, “Our founding fathers believed you cannot legislate morality.” He paraphrased Benjamin Franklin, who in 1787 as he left the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia was asked what kind of government had been created. He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Higbee concluded his comments by saying, “To some this issue is legal, to some it is moral, and I fall on the moral side. If the legislature later makes us change this ordinance, we’ll do it then.”