After less than two weeks of recreational sales of marijuana in Nevada, the state’s dispensaries are pretty much out of product. And ongoing legal problems with distribution mean they’re not sure how or when more will come.
Since cannabis sales were legalized for residents and tourists on July 1, Nevada’s dispensaries have recorded more than 40,000 transactions and estimate that more than $3 million worth of sales have occurred, outpacing expectations, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
This would be a great time to be selling weed in Nevada — or it would be if there wasn’t a missing link in the supply chain.
Unfortunately, despite efforts by the state’s nearly 50 legal dispensaries to stockpile product leading up to July 1, there’s nearly nothing left, and no one licensed to transport product between cultivators and retail.
The issue comes from a legal bottleneck created in November. At the time, Nevada granted state liquor distributors exclusive rights to transport cannabis between those who grow it and those who sell it for the first 18 months of legal sales. The problem, however, was that liquor distributors weren’t interested in the job.
Different explanations have swirled, including accusations that the liquor industry might even be using this leverage to derail cannabis sales, which could be seen as competitors to the alcohol market. But a simpler explanation might be federal regulations: since liquor distributors are federally licensed, involvement in cannabis distribution even in states where it is legal could jeopardize their licenses to operate.
Still, if the liquor distributors did not intend to stonewall recreational marijuana sales, they’d need to explain why, when an emergency provision was passed to allow other distributors to apply for licenses, they sued the state for violating its own policy.
That suit, which they won at the end of May, essentially caused this bottleneck, or at the very least exacerbated the problem.
None of that is to say that Nevada could possibly have stockpiled enough cannabis to prepare for opening day sales. Most of what’s been sold over the last week is actually the dispensaries’ stockpiles of medicinal marijuana, which was governed by different language, and which the dispensaries were mercifully permitted to sell as recreational product ahead of July 1.
Several other states had problems, as Newsweek pointed out:
"When Colorado first went completely legal back in 2014, plenty of dispensaries saw products cleaned from shelves due to the high volume of customers… Similarly, in Washington, many state officials expected legal cannabis to sell out “within hours or days” following the recreational program’s launch, due to the low number of harvest licenses the state allowed growers, processors and distributors.
It’s all so bad that the governor has endorsed a state of emergency (which really should be called a high alert, but we’re not in charge). He and the state government are working to process more licenses as quickly as possible, before the last available product in the state goes up in smoke.