Cannabis flower - photo: the Ally

Jackpot, Nevada is almost on the very northeastern corner of Nevada, some 70 miles north of Wells. As the name implies, casinos have traditionally sustained the economy of Jackpot, but the business closures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have sent the town of 1,100 residents into an economic nose dive.

Since 2017, there has been a ban on cannabis businesses, medical and adult use, in the unincorporated parts of Elko County. Jackpot is the county’s largest unincorporated community.

Within Elko County, the incorporated cities of Wells, Carlin and West Wendover have passed ordinances to allow cannabis businesses.

In December of 2019, a dispensary opened in West Wendover.

In April of 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Elko Band Council of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Tribal Nation opened a state-regulated dispensary on tribal land on the north side of the City of Elko. Newe Cannabis features a drive though window.

The cannabis business is reportedly brisk in the cities of Elko and West Wendover.

Elko County Commission Meeting

During Wednesday’s County Commission meeting, Monica Burt and Teresa Hugill, both members of the Jackpot Town Advisory Board, asked county leaders to allow a dispensary in Jackpot to stave off the effects of a severe economic downturn.

“The hotels and casinos were closed for nearly 12 weeks. In essence, if you look at it, for the first 6 months of this year, we have hardly made any money at all for the town of Jackpot,” said Monica Burt.

“A little side note,” Burt continued. “Just because of the shutdown, about 90 percent of our people were unemployed because as you know we have these 2 major casinos.

“There was no social services in place for these people. People had to volunteer their time to help others get unemployment, to find businesses willing to donate to help our people get food.

“We were able to get food with FISH here in Elko, and then we had several companies in Idaho that helped Jackpot out.”

When asking the Commissioners to lift the ban on dispensaries in the unincorporated parts of Elko County and allow one in Jackpot, Teresa Hugill accounted for the moral opposition some Commissioners have expressed regarding legal cannabis.

“We understand that allowing a dispensary brings people’s personal views and beliefs into decisions. However, we ask for you to put those feelings aside for the moment. We ask that you focus your decisions solely on what is best for the community of Jackpot and the people that live there and for Elko.

“We respectfully ask that Elko County Commissioners lift the ordinance that prohibits dispensaries from doing business in unincorporated towns and allow Jackpot to have a dispensary. And from the bottom of my heart, I ask that you guys help us be able to do this. We have a lot of people in need there. And this will bring jobs to the town. It will bring businesses to the town, and we’re at a loss of what to do from here,” Hugill said.

Commissioner Demar Dahl, a noted critic of legal cannabis, characterized a dispensary in Jackpot as legally irresponsible.

“If a dispensary were to succeed, wouldn’t they have to depend on enough people being willing to break the law from Idaho,” Dahl asked Monica Burt and Teresa Hugill during Wednesday’s meeting. “In order for somebody from Idaho to come down and purchase at the dispensary, go back to Idaho, that would be against the law. Right?

“If they came from Idaho and say bought some marijuana and went to smoke on the street, that would be against the law. If they decide to smoke in their own car, that’s actually against the law.

“So they need a friend in Jackpot who would invite them to their home because then that would not be against the law, but everything else that they do with it would be against law. So like if I went to my bank and said, Hey, I want to put in a dispensary, would my banker say well, are there enough people that are willing to break the law that you’re going to be able to make this thing work?”

Nevada has a rich history of borderland commerce. Residents in neighboring states have long come to Nevada towns near the border for the brothels, permissive alcohol availability, cheap cigarettes, and gambling.

Commissioner Jon Karr pointed to the dispensary in West Wendover as an object lesson.

“I think a better example would be Wendover and how much they’re doing,” Karr said during Wednesday’s meeting. “So I don’t know if it’s our judgment or not to say whether people are coming to Wendover to break the law or who are not breaking the law. The fact of the matter is how much Wendover is selling, and everything I read it’s over a million dollars a month out of that store. So I don’t know if it’s our judgment, but also I don’t know if we can say how many are breaking the law from Utah or how many are Wendover people just enjoying the heck out of it.”

Theresa Dimmitt is the director of tourism for Jackpot and addressed Commissioner Dahl’s concerns about illegal activity.

“As the director of tourism, it’s my goal to get people to come and stay at our hotels,” Dimmitt said during Wednesday’s meeting. “By allowing this, it would open up a whole new group of people that can come in, legally partake, and not break the law, not take it back to Idaho, not bring it back or smoke it on the streets.

“I have to agree, when I first heard it, that’s what I thought. But after talking to people and doing a lot of research on it, I have found that it is just the opposite. People come in, they stay, they’ll gamble, they may go play golf, they’ll do whatever it is they do. They’ll partake in their hotel rooms, and then they will return to wherever they’re from.”

Commissioner Delmo Andreozzi said he has moral objections to legal cannabis. During Wednesday’s meeting Andreozzi said he met with Monica Burt and Teresa Hugill and others from Jackpot about a dispensary. Based on the conversation, he said he would vote for the dispensary if the cannabis business met 5 demands.

“When I extended the olive branch that I extended, I extended it on a number of different reasons because I empathize with the situation, empathize, my heart aches,” Androzzi said. “I’ve driven by there four or five times on my way to Jarbidge this last winter. I empathize with what’s going on there.

“And I want to be perfectly clear, I have never been, nor will I ever be anti-Jackpot, ever. I am anti-pot,” Andreozzi said.

The goal of making the demands, according to Andreozzi, is to protect the citizens of Jackpot. During Wednesday’s meeting Adreozzi stated his conditions for opening a privileged cannabis business in Jackpot.

  1. The cannabis business must pay the state-authorized 3 percent tax to Elko County and make an additional 3 percent annual donation of proceeds to the community of Jackpot.
  2. The dispensary must have a real property that pays property tax to the county, a permanent building.
  3. The cannabis business must guarantee the number of employees it will consistently employ. Andreozzi said the starting point for negotiations would be 40 employees.
  4. There must be a robust residency requirement for those hired to include specifics of incentives for the relocation of employees to Jackpot.
  5. The company must issue a bond or letter of credit guaranteeing that the company will abide by all the demands. Andreozzi offered a bond amount of a half a million dollars, though he would consider a smaller number.

During the meeting on Wednesday, the dispensary in Jackpot agenda item forced the Commissioners to decide if the county should draft an ordinance to allow a dispensary in Jackpot.

Before the Commissioners voted, several offered public comment.

Rich Barrows is an attorney who represents Barton’s Club 93, a casino hotel that has operated in Jackpot for more than 60 years. Barrows said the company typically employs some 180 people. Eighty-five percent of the employees are local.

“Club 93 is here to ask you to support the drafting of this ordinance, to move forward with it within the town of Jackpot, and to allow private enterprise to engage in this lawful business,” Barrows said.

Thrive Cannabis Marketplace

Mitch Britten is CEO of Thrive Cannabis Marketplace. Thrive operates four dispensaries, 3 in southern Nevada and 1 in Reno. Thrive has 2 more dispensary licenses to develop, and according to Britten, folks in Jackpot contacted him earlier this year when the economic impact of the novel coronavirus became apparent.

In December of 2019, the City of Carlin, in Elko County, approved an ordinance that would allow cannabis businesses. Britten said his company will put a dispensary in Carlin if the Jackpot project fails.

The dispensary Thrive Cannabis Marketplace would build in Carlin, Nevada – image: Thrive Cannabis Marketplace

For Britten, since the Elko Band Council of the Te-Moak Tribe has opened a dispensary in Elko, a dispensary in Jackpot is more attractive than one in Carlin, west of Elko on Route 80.

“It makes it a lot harder to pull that traffic from Elko to Carlin because it is already here in Elko,” Britten said in a phone interview from Elko.

The next logical step for Britten is to look at a dispensary in Jackpot.

“We’re really used to bobbing and weaving a little bit when it comes to ordinances and local governments. They always have a lot of questions. Essentially because of the way they collect taxes off of gross revenue, they’re really like a business partner.

“We’re always willing to make concessions and go to whatever extent we need to, but some of those demands, in my opinion, are a little outlandish if you will.

“But I think during the ordinance writing process we’ll be able to hold their hand and really make sure that their issues and concerns are addressed, but I do think some of those guarantees will be hard,” Britten said.

Doing business in one of the most remote corners of Nevada comes with challenges. Britten said Thrive has a commitment to economic development, especially in rural Nevada.

“We’re just really excited to get the process rolling up there and be just a huge contributor to the town. I see it as a really awesome opportunity for the company to make some impactful changes and be a little bit of a lifeline (for the community). We’re really excited about it.”

Commissioner Demar Dahl said he opposes the legalization of marijuana and would not vote for the rule change. Near the end of Wednesday’s proceedings, Dahl commented on Andreozzi’s moral opposition to cannabis.

“When we discussed this before, you said you have a moral objection to it, unless,” Dahl then chuckled. “Unless it makes enough money, right?”

Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to send a request to the county legal department to draft an ordinance that would allow a dispensary in Jackpot, to include Commissioner Andreozzi’s 5 demands. The Elko County Commission will discuss the proposed ordinance during a subsequent meeting.

Brian Bahouth is a career public media journalist who has written about cannabis regulation in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Massachusetts, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine, Canada, District of Columbia, Arizona, and Nevada. Support his work.