I-Team: Big players vying for medical marijuana licenses - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Big players vying for medical marijuana licenses

Posted: Updated:
LAS VEGAS -- The competition for medical marijuana licenses in Clark County will be fierce, especially since so many of the applicants are among the wealthiest and most powerful people in the state.

Billionaires, former billionaires, political heavyweights and an assortment of business titans want to get in on what could be our state's next big industry.

According to the Clark County, 91 companies will compete for 18 licenses, and those behind the companies haven't made it easy for the public to figure out who's involved.

Remember that movie about the ferocity of the Oklahoma land rush? All that dust and sweat and turmoil as people scurried for a piece to call their own? The rush for medical marijuana is not quite as chaotic, and the people making the run are certainly not poor, but the doors to the county commission offices are swinging like a busy saloon these days.

Well-heeled lobbyists and powerful players are pouncing on any commissioner willing to listen to their pitch and why their company would be best to bring weed to those in need.

With only 9,000 medical marijuana cards in the entire state, why are so many bigwigs scrambling for a piece of the pot action?

“The political look is, in two to three years, who's got the inside on recreational use? That's where I think is going on. This now, is just like getting pole position for the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, right?” Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins said.

He says it's been a long time since he's seen anything quite like the amazing juice fest now underway as the county tries to divvy up the first batch of licenses for marijuana facilities, including dispensaries.

Even if droves of tourists with their out-of-state medical marijuana cards shop at Nevada dispensaries, the legal market isn’t that big. It could be $10 to $20 million per year by some estimates.

If Nevada follows the national trend and legalizes recreational use of marijuana in a few years, then the initial licensees would have the inside track at a potential bonanza of green riches. Las Vegas could become -- as one writer suggested -- the Disneyland of weed.

“A tremendous investment to get this far,” said Javier Barajas, a medical marijuana applicant.

Barajas and his partners own a string of popular restaurants, including Lindo Michoacan. His group was at the county on Monday to talk to commissioners about why they applied for a dispensary license. Barajas is up against major league competition.

The system is set up to favor big players. Each applicant must have $250,000 of liquid capital in the bank, must own or lease a building to house the licensed business, must have a full-time physician on staff, must pay $5,000 to the county for the application, $30,000 to the state, and double that amount to the city of Las Vegas, if applying within city limits. County commissioners say they will give preferential treatment to those applicants who have a proven track record of creating jobs and tax revenues.

In the end, it means the only ones who have a shot at a license are those applicants who already have deep pockets.

“Yeah, it's a lot of money,” Barajas said.

The names of many applicants have been reported, including and extensive list from the I-Team's Steve Kanigher, but the applicants didn't make it easy.

For example, an LLC registered in Delaware, IWNV, applied for three licenses, one each for cultivation, a dispensary, and production of edibles. IWNV is a shell company which includes Las Vegas Sun publisher Brian Greenspun, whose weekly paper The Sunday has a cover story about the marijuana business this week.

Deep Roots Medical LLC is another applicant. It is made up of eight partners, seven of which are also LLC’s. One of those LLC’s leads to Gary Primm, the former state line casino owner who has a town named for him. Another leads to Las Vegas public relations executive and presidential advisor Sig Rogich.

Another applicant, La Casa Verde LLC has three partners including G and B wellness LLC, which, in turn, is made up two other LLC’s JJG Holdings and Woodcrest Holdings. It turns out that JJG Holdings is owned by longtime animal activist Janie Greenspun Gale and her partner, Woodcrest Trust, is none other than personal injury attorney Ed Bernstein.

The lists of other applicants reads like Las Vegas royalty: Camille Ruvo, wife of wine impresario Larry Ruvo; development heavyweights John Ritter and Renaldo Tiberti; casino owner Anthony Marnell; Michael, Gary and Robert Frey of the Molasky family, Rich Abajian, the general manager of Findlay Toyota, restaurateur Michael Morton, a long list of prominent physicians.

There are also politicians, including former speaker of the Assembly Richard Perkins, part of a team with former Assemblyman Scott Sibley, former Nevada Assemblyman David Goldwater, Assemblyman Chad Christensen, and veteran judge Jim Bixler

With so many rich and powerful mouths to feed, how will the county choose the winners?

“You draw them out of a hat, one, two, three, and four. That's the fairest way to do it. I don't give a damn whose name is on it. If they put up the money, let them come and sell it," Commissioner Collins said.

It is doubtful they will award the coveted licenses based on the luck of the draw. This is a political plum and a chance for the commissioners to make some new friends, as well as a lot of enemies.

In addition to all the other costs, many applicants have hired local law firms and lobbyists to help grease the wheels. One prominent lobbyist is charging $100,000 as a fee plus a percentage of the net profits, if a license is awarded. That lobbyist reportedly has at least ten such clients.

It's not clear whether the gaming executives will be dropping out. Billionaire Gary Primm sold his casinos years ago. The commission will hold public meetings in June to whittle down the list.
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and KLAS. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.