ELKO – The Elko Planning Commission rejected a proposal Tuesday to ban marijuana sales in the city through a zoning amendment, in a narrow 4-3 vote.
The proposal was passed down to the Elko Planning Commission for recommendation after an initial vote by Elko City Council at their Oct. 24 meeting. Councilman John Patrick Rice was the only one on the five-member council to oppose the ban.
Now the proposal will return to the council, which may adopt the ban in spite of the planning commission’s recommendation.
“It is really rare for the City Council to go against the planning commission’s recommendation, but we have done it before,” Rice told the Elko Daily Free Press. “My opinion on the issue is that the people of Nevada voted for it, so the people of Elko deserve the same liberties as they have. I don’t think the vote will change at council, but we will be discussing it.”
Police Chief Ben Reed assembled news articles and research that indicated there would be further strains on local law enforcement if the amendment was not passed.
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“As officers we take an oath to uphold the state, local, and federal laws,” said Lt. Ty Trouten in presenting Reed’s notes to the planning commission. “When these laws do not align, then it creates issues for the Elko Police Department. There have been mixed studies that do not show the benefits of marijuana. It interferes with cash transactions for any business and that leads to more targets for robberies, accompanied by DUI issues and traffic control problems for those businesses if it did not pass, and complaints for minors would rise if this passed. Law enforcement is not in favor of either should we be at liability, as there would be no additional funding to provide resources to the additional law enforcement to address these problems.”
Commissioner Stefan Beck brought up several questions about how the zoning amendment would affect the state’s rights versus the city’s view of the issue. Beck also commented on how other businesses in different cities in the state have licenses to sell, and then questioned how the state could also potentially stop the drug from coming across the border or limiting the illegal drug trades in the state.
Commissioner Kevin Hodur commented throughout the hearing how the two options sitting in front of the council troubled him, as the only barrier on the issue seemed to be the federal law which prohibits it.
City Attorney Dave Stanton was present to answer questions regarding the difference between state, local and federal laws on the issue, as well as identify the key differences between a zoning ordinance and the business licensing procedures for the City of Elko.
“This is to prohibit business and it’s currently unlawful under the Federal Controlled Substance Act,” said Stanton. “We also have to keep in mind the neighboring Indian tribe as a sovereign nation who operates under different regulations and who tabled the issue of a dispensary recently. Also, it’s just a very complex issue, but the land use would enable people to make plans for their subsequent property. It just needs to be addressed one way or another.”
Assistant City Manager Scott Wilkinson also commented to the commission that if they didn’t address the issue it would leave the City of Elko open to litigation at any time on the issue of marijuana businesses.
Commissioner Jeff Dalling commented that people could easily drive to Las Vegas or Reno to purchase the drug. Commissioner David Freistroffer talked extensively about weighing the option to revisit the issue to address the business licensing aspect and its potential for the city.
“The more access there is to a drug, the more usage there is,” said Commissioner Aaron Martinez toward the end of the discussion.
Hodur moved to forward a recommendation to city council to not approve the amendment. Beck seconded the motion.
Dalling, Martinez, and Tera Hooiman voted against the motion. Freistroffer and John Anderson voted with Hodur and Beck to pass the motion.
“The planning commission is a recommending board to the city council,” Rice told the Elko Daily. “They take a closer look at these things and look to follow and interpret statutes pretty closely. There’s part of the statute that says that they cannot issue a business license if they are not in compliance with local, state and federal law.”
The Elko City Council will have a second public hearing on the amendment at their next meeting Dec. 12, taking the Planning Commission’s recommendation into account.