By Brady McCombs
SALT LAKE CITY — The first recreational marijuana dispensary opened Monday in a northeastern Nevada border city known for its casinos, but Utah residents considering making the 90-minute drive to West Wendover will have to be careful about where they use the pot if they go.
Nevada laws prohibit using marijuana in public or hotel rooms, and U.S. laws prohibit people from taking it across state lines to Utah, where only medical marijuana is legal. The new dispensary in West Wendover, Nevada, called Deep Roots Harvest, figures to get plenty of business from Utah residents waiting for Utah’s new medical marijuana program to roll out next year, said Christine Stenquist, the director and founder of advocacy group Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE.
She said she’s already getting requests for carpools to West Wendover, which is about 125 miles (201 kilometers) west of Salt Lake City, making it the closest marijuana dispensary for people who live in northern Utah. Previously, people traveled nearly twice as far to cities in Colorado or southern Nevada, she said.
She is cautioning people to be careful and not to answer any questions until they have a lawyer if they are stopped on the highways. Utah’s law allows using medical marijuana in certain forms with a doctor’s note of permission, but there’s murkiness until the state issues patient cards and opens dispensaries. That’s scheduled to happen in the spring of 2020.
“We’re in a quasi-legal state right now,” Stenquist said. “They need to be wise. This is federally illegal.”
Utah Highway Patrol troopers are aware the dispensary opened but the agency hasn’t arranged any extra patrols or checkpoints and doesn’t plan to arrest people who have a doctor’s note and marijuana oils, tablets or other forms of the drug legal under state law, said Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Street. But they will remain alert for impaired drivers who are coming back from West Wendover on Interstate 80, he said, and the law does prohibit smokable marijuana.
“It’s definitely on our radar. We’re concerned. It’s an impairing substance that is now recreationally available,” Street said. “We’re worried people will go over there and and consume it and try to hoof it home without letting the effects wear off.”
West Wendover officials are excited about adding a new draw to the city other than casinos, but they want their neighbors in Utah to be careful, said Mayor Daniel Corona.
“They really need to think about it before they come over,” Corona said. “You would have to go someone’s house (to use it), that’s about your only option.”
After weighing the pros and cons, the West Wendover city council voted to approve a facility in November 2018. That sets up the city of 5,000 residents to get a nice budgetary boost from the 3% tax on all purchases at the facility, Corona said. He said they don’t have any estimates on how much they’ll get.
Nevada voters approved recreational marijuana in 2016 and the state’s medicinal pot dispensaries reported nearly $640 million in total sales for the fiscal year that ended June 30. The state took in a little more than $99 million in taxes from medical and recreational sales and another $9.9 million in licensing and application fees during that time.
“I think it’s definitely going to be a good thing,” Corona said. “We’ve been trying really hard to diversify our economy. It’s a step in that direction.”
Deep Roots Harvest started growing medical marijuana in 2015 in Mesquite, Nevada, according to the company’s website. A phone message left with store managers wasn’t immediately returned.