CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada’s marijuana regulators are working furiously to launch recreational sales on July 1, a fast-approaching deadline that could hinge on a court deciding whether the powerful liquor industry should be guaranteed a piece of the pot pie before tourists and residents can light up.
Lawyers for the liquor industry and the Nevada Department of Taxation were arguing before a judge on Monday whether the state has the authority to issue marijuana distribution licenses to anyone besides alcohol distributors.
The state says it has the power to temporarily license some existing medical marijuana cultivators and retailers to serve as their own middlemen. It wants to get a head-start on collecting millions of dollars in tax revenue devoted to education before permanent rules are required by Jan. 1, 2018.
The liquor lobby sued, saying the state did not give it the first shot at distribution licenses as called for in the ballot measure approved by voters in November, the only legal pot state with that arrangement.
Carson City District Judge James Wilson blocked all licensing until the matter is resolved. He refused the state’s request last week to dismiss the lawsuit.
The law says alcohol distributors have exclusive rights to pot distribution licenses, unless the state determines there is not enough interest to meet anticipated demand.
The tax department said there was “insufficient interest” among the liquor lobby when it published the proposed regulations. It later said that determination would be made after all applications were processed.
One of the alcohol distributors who insists their industry can handle the job is Allan Nassau, a former tour and production manager for rock bans including the Allman Brothers and INXS who now owns Red Rock Wines — a boutique wine distributor.
He testified that his business currently serves more than