Plan would send Nevada medical marijuana money to drug treatment program

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada’s medical marijuana program has built up a large budget surplus and Health and Human Services officials say it would be an excellent source of funding for a drug treatment program.

Division of Child and Family Services administrator Diane Comeaux told the Ways and Means Committee Saturday the plan is to use the money to the substance abuse treatment program serving families in the child welfare program. She said an interim study identified needs within that program — particularly drug and alcohol treatment which she said is a common issue in cases where the state has to step in and remove children from their parental home.

“We didn’t have substance abuse programs to refer these families to,” said Comeaux.

She said once a child is removed from the home, they have 24 months to either return them or put them up for adoption.

“When we have a family that has substance abuse issues and they’re on wait list for six or eight months and have to start treatment after that, that puts them behind six or eight months,” she said. “What we’re hoping for with this program is that they wouldn’t have to be on a wait list.”

Phil Weyrick of the Health Division said Assembly Bill 528 would transfer $700,000 from the medical marijuana account to the substance abuse program each year of the coming biennium. He said that still would leave enough money in the account to operate the medical marijuana registry since that account is expected to generate $877,861 in fiscal 2012 and $965,647 in 2013.

“Based on the proposed revenue, we’re confident the registry will be able to continue operations,” Weyrick said.

The money comes from the $50 charged for the application to be permitted the use of medical marijuana and from the $150 charge for processing the actual application. Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden said many more application packets are requested than actually processed — particularly by operations in Las Vegas that help qualify people for medical marijuana cards.

The only testimony against the bill came from Rebecca Gasca of the American Civil Liberties Union who argued the money should be reinvested in the medical marijuana program to educate doctors about the value and uses of medical marijuana and participants as to their legal rights and risks as well as look for ways to help come patients obtain the marijuana they need.

Gasca said the biggest problem with Nevada’s medical marijuana program is it does nothing to enable patients to get the drug, which still is illegal under federal law.

She said those patients basically have few options other than the black market because the alternative is to spend thousands on growing equipment then wait six months for the plants to mature.

“Keep this money in the program where it deserves to stay,” she told the committee. “Create an advisory committee within the department to explore opportunities to create legal ways of access for patients.”

The committee took no action on the bill.

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