West Wendover approves recreational marijuana sales

WEST WENDOVER, Nev. -- The city council has voted to approve recreational marijuana sales, a move that the mayor believes will be an economic boon to this casino border town.

"I’m sure their sales are going to be high," Mayor Daniel Corona told FOX 13 after the vote, adding: "Pun not intended."

The council voted 3-2 in favor of recreational marijuana sales at its meeting Tuesday night. The vote came shortly after a new council member was sworn into office. Kathy Durham defeated John Hanson, who was part of a critical vote earlier this year that blocked recreational sales.

In remarks explaining her vote, Durham called for the city to "regulate it from seed to sale."

"I’m sorry this issue divides us, and I hope after tonight we can move forward," she said.

FOX 13 first reported on West Wendover city leaders' efforts to bring recreational marijuana to the border town last year. City officials toured a Mesquite grow facility and dispensary to see how it worked. The council originally approved an ordinance allowing medical marijuana with the option to expand it to recreational.

But when that vote came up earlier this year, the council voted 3-2 against it. Mayor Corona vetoed that decision, leaving recreational sales in limbo.

On Tuesday, council members said their votes were reflecting the will of West Wendover residents, who did vote in 2016 in support of recreational cannabis sales statewide.

"It was clearly chosen by the voters the first time it went through," said Councilman Izzy Gutierrez. "This election was another strong message from the voters that they wanted it."

But councilmen Nick Flores and Jerry Anderson both said they were uncomfortable with recreational marijuana sales.

"I’m all for medical marijuana. I’m behind it 100 percent," Flores said. "I don’t feel like recreational marijuana sales at this time is a proper way to go."

Mayor Corona has argued recreational marijuana would benefit the community that's population 5,000 on weekdays and balloons to 20,000 on weekends (mostly Utahns who make the 90-minute drive from the Wasatch Front to gamble, take in a concert or visit the discount liquor stores). He said it would add 38 good paying jobs and bring in more visitors to the community.

"There will be a lot of people here. Again, we have to make sure that we stress to those who are coming from Utah and out of state to purchase marijuana, it is illegal to transport across state lines," he said.

Nevada has broken tax records for marijuana sales. In its first year, the Silver State sold more than a half-billion in pot. 

West Wendover's lone dispensary license has already been spoken for. Deep Roots Harvest, which operates a grow operation and a dispensary in Mesquite, won a contract to build a dispensary here. But where they were planning to dispense medical marijuana, they will now expand into recreational sales.

Marijuana sales are expected to start in summer 2019.

"We’re looking to do it right the first time and we definitely respect everyone in Utah," said Councilwoman Jasie Holm. "And we know this is a playground. We’re going to do it right. We’re going to make it strict and I think it’s going to be good."

Utah voters did recently approve Proposition 2, which does legalize medical cannabis when it goes into effect Dec. 1. But under a bill being proposed by the legislature that would swap out the citizen ballot initiative, the cannabis obtained through the state would be distributed through state-run dispensaries.