State official says temp workers capably screened marijuana license applicants

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John Locher / AP

In this Aug. 1, 2018, file photo, marijuana is on display at 420 Sahara Wellness in Las Vegas.

Tue, Jun 11, 2019 (9:15 p.m.)

A Nevada Department of Taxation official praised a group of temporary workers who helped score applications last year from marijuana businesses seeking retail cannabis licenses.

Steve Gilbert defended a group of eight temporary employees contracted from Manpower who helped the state decipher and grade more than 450 applications last fall. His testimony was part an afternoon of methodical questioning in the court hearing to address complaints that the state’s marijuana licensing process is biased.

“These were experienced professionals,” said Gilbert, who was a point man in the department’s process to review and score applications. “They were able to discern.”

Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez is continuing a hearing this week to decide whether Nevada should be blocked from granting dozens of retail marijuana licenses, after losing applicants filed an injunction asking to halt the state’s licensing process, saying that the scoring system used to determine the winners was biased.

Following testimony last week, Gilbert was questioned by plaintiff lawyers for several more hours on Tuesday. Most of attorney Theodore Parker’s questions suggested the department failed to follow state guidelines in its competitive application review process.

Parker, representing Nevada Wellness Center LLC, wondered why all shareholders of publicly traded companies that applied for licenses weren’t required to be disclosed in the applications, 61 of which were approved in last year’s round of retail cannabis licensure.

He also called application-requirement wording confusing and questioned why more scrutiny wasn’t given to the physical locations for cannabis business licenses that were sought.

“Let’s say that ABC large company pays a ton of taxes into the state of Nevada,” Parker said. “But they don’t want to disclose all of the owners of the company because the (Department of Taxation) decided they didn’t have to list all of their shareholders. All of those shareholders are still getting credit for the taxes they pay in Nevada, because that’s a consideration in the application, but they may not be disclosed for the purposes of diversity.”

The state used a six-criteria ranking system — which included a grading of the diversity of a company’s leadership structure — to dictate how applicants would be scored. Applicants had the opportunity to gain up to 250 points within the scoring system.

Lawyers for a number of businesses awarded licenses in December, including Essence Cannabis and Thrive, have joined the state in opposing the injunction.

Some plaintiffs say the application process was unconstitutional. Some seek a do-over while others want financial damages.

Gonzalez said she hopes to wrap the hearings up and issue a decision following three more scheduled days of proceedings June 18-20, although it’s possible additional days could be scheduled.

Several others — including additional department employees, dispensary owners and an expert witness on background checks from the gaming industry — will also testify, according to attorneys involved in the litigation.

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