Nevada marijuana workers can’t get permits amid backlog

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Laura Simes started getting nervous in July when her new agent card allowing her to legally work in the cannabis industry hadn’t arrived in the mail. It’d been a month since her card expired.

She’d sent in the fees and all the needed information to the Cannabis Compliance Board, a relatively new state regulatory agency that oversees the recreational marijuana industry. Now it’s November and she still doesn’t have her card.

“I think my boss is having the same issue, and he has other friends in the industry that are having the same problem,” Simes told the Reno Gazette Journal.

Simes, who works in a Las Vegas-area cultivation facility, said the agency recently emailed saying she could work without penalty due to the sometimes months-long processing delay. She keeps a printout of the email, complete with a PDF temporary card, in her work locker, just in case.

“I don’t think they know exactly what they’re doing,” Simes said about the Cannabis Compliance Board, which took the reins over from the Department of Taxation in July.

She’s among hundreds in Nevada’s marijuana industry — possibly more, according to the Nevada Current — of employees working with out-of-date agent cards.

Agent cards, which require a background check and fingerprints, grant workers access to areas in marijuana business facilities. The state requires them to track employees and ensure legal practices in an industry that is heavily scrutinized.

Businesses are worried that, despite recent state moves to alleviate the backlog, they’re still going to be penalized. And employees are worried for their jobs in a tumultuous economy.

State officials are trying to conquer the backlog. Most recently, for example, the board extended the expiration dates for permanent agent cards by 90 days and temporary agent cards through Jan. 31.

“I think it’s helpful for all the people who have been in limbo — for all the people that have lost their faith, so to speak,” said Derek Gumin, director of wholesale at Planet 13 in Las Vegas. “But it still just leaves us in the same place for a few months.”

While the state is desperately trying to make accommodations for those trapped in the backlog, some workers note the board also is fining some businesses that have employees with expired cards.

In October, the Cannabis Compliance Board posted a complaint against one Nevada marijuana company because inspectors discovered that six employees were working under expired cards. The cultivator, Nevada Medical Group, faces up to $90,000 in fines and loss of its license to operate, according to public documents.

A board spokeswoman said officials can’t discuss pending disciplinary matters but are considering recent complications before taking any final action.

Gumin said regulators are “nickel and diming” the industry, an indicator to him that the industry, which raked in $77.9 million in taxable sales in July this year and $79.5 million in August, is just a cash cow for a state that is falling on hard times. He said delays in agent cards can have serious ramifications for businesses.

“I’ve had several of my staff and employees apply months ago and haven’t received anything in the mail,” said Gumin. “When you try to get ahold of the (board), you don’t.”

State officials say the hold-up is due to a combination of factors, including pandemic complications, delays in federal background checks and a higher-than-normal wave of applications.

In June, the state received a flood of applications because it switched in July from $75 annual fees to $150 for two-year cards.

“Everyone wanted to get their applications in before the price went up,” said Tyler Klimas, the board’s executive director.

In recent weeks, the board has been trying to remedy the lag by sending PDFs of temporary cards, which had been good for a month and a half. The recent extension to Jan. 31 buys the board time.

Monday, the state also announced a new online application process. Applicants can now complete the agent card application online in less than five minutes, board spokeswoman Tiana Bohner said. It replaces the agent card packet, which required applicants to download, fill out, scan, and upload forms.

The board has not been fining anyone with an expired card if they’ve submitted a complete application to regulators since their card’s expiration, Klimas said. In some cases, people are submitting incomplete applications, he said.

“COVID has kind of forced us to get creative and find new efficiencies. We have reduced the size of the application; anything we don’t absolutely need, boom, we got rid of it,” he said.

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