Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana

Nevada’s Growing Business

 By Valerie Miller

Longtime Las Vegas businessman Andrew Jolley had a successful career in real estate and, by his own account, was never interested with experimenting with drugs such as marijuana. Fast-forward to 2016, and Jolley is running a pretty elaborate—and legal— medical marijuana dispensary, cultivation and dispensary operation.

Just how did this real estate entrepreneur turn into a marijuana mogul, of sorts? As Jolley explains, the process began in 2001, when he lost a lifelong friend to an accidental death from prescription drugs at age 27.

“He was misprescribed a very powerful prescription drug. He took half of the recommended prescribed dose, and he died the first time he took it,” Jolley recalls. “And, he was previously taking medical marijuana, and he had to travel to California to get his medicine—legally. It made it a hardship for him.”

That personal tragedy reinforced Jolley’s support for using cannabis for medical uses.

“I have always believed that medical marijuana can help people,” he recalls of his late friend. “I saw the impact it made on my friend’s life. And ultimately, he died partially as a result of not having access to medical marijuana.”

The Roots of the Pot Industry

While the use of cannabis for medical purposes has been legally allowed in Nevada for more than a decade, there was always a sticking point of how to get patients their medical pot. Nevada residents desiring to use marijuana for ailments would need to get a letter from their doctor prescribing cannabis. Then, the patients could apply to the state of Nevada for a medical marijuana card, which legally allowed them to use marijuana. But the next step was more challenging. That was because unlike codeine, morphine and other prescription drugs, there were no pharmacies that stocked marijuana. (Man-made cannabis pills, called “Marinol,” however, are available at pharmacies with a prescription.)

Nevada law, prior to 2013, allowed medical marijuana patients to grow a small number of cannabis plants, but did not offer them any mainstream access to purchase the drug for medical use. Sometimes, that resulted in medical marijuana patients sharing their pot with each other, or—for those who weren’t skilled enough to grow their own cannabis plants—illegally buying it on the street.

Prior to 2013, a few so-called medical marijuana “co-ops” set up shop in Las Vegas to supply marijuana to patients. As there was no state law on the books to allow for the operation of dispensaries in Nevada, the so-called co-ops were based on “donations,” according to their operators. Eventually though, most were raided by law enforcement and shut down.

Since the 1970s and the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, the cannabis plant has been labeled a “Schedule 1 drug,” meaning the federal government considers it the most dangerous type of drug. This classification also means the federal prohibition on marijuana remains, although in recent years, the Obama Administration has indicated it would not interfere with the decisions made by the individual states, leaving each state to decide whether to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational use, or both.

In 2013, the Nevada Legislature voted to approve the licensing of marijuana dispensaries in Nevada to supply medical marijuana. While dozens of states have already approved the medical use of cannabis, others have gone farther. Colorado, Washington, Hawaii, and Oregon have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The District of Columbia has also approved recreational marijuana.

Nevada is scheduled to have a measure on the November ballot to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Building  Business from the Ground Up

Given the complicated history of marijuana in America, it was not a surprise that those seeking marijuana dispensary licenses in Nevada had to go through a complicated and costly process. Jolley, who partnered with his real estate partner Steve Byrne, and local attorney Pat Byrne (no relation), spent months studying the regulations for applying for a dispensary license. And that was only the beginning.

“The process was extremely competitive and difficult,” Jolley recalls. “We went through about a year-long application process that involved applications in Clark County, Henderson, and the state health department’s application process. But at the end of the day, we received what we applied for and we are very fortunate to be among the top-10 scoring applications in the state.” Separate approvals were needed for dispensaries, production facilities and cultivation facilities, which made the process more arduous. In addition, different jurisdictions had their own processes for selecting applicants, before submitting their candidates for state approval. For Jolley’s fledgling company—The + Source—that meant he needed approvals from Henderson, unincorporated Clark County and Nye County. Then, he needed state of Nevada’s approval.

The process was not cheap. To apply for a marijuana-related business license, applicants had to “control” the real estate where their business would be located. This meant, applicants had to pay rent for property long before they knew if their business would be approved.

“So, we ended up buying the entire shopping center that our dispensary is located in for our license…at Sahara [Avenue] and Rainbow [Boulevard],” Jolley says.

While Jolley was a real estate expert, he knew he needed people who are experts in the medical marijuana business for this venture to succeed.

“We looked to Colorado, to California and Arizona for partners and hoped that we found really good partners out of Arizona,” he says, referring to Harvest of Tempe. “They had an existing dispensary operations down there. And application fees themselves were very expensive. You had to hire teams of design professionals.”

The price was not cheap, but the results have been worth it. “Now, we are a medical marijuana company and we have two dispensaries, two cultivation facilities and a production facility,” he says. “But when you add up all the money spent on going into the licensing process for all five of our licenses…just shy of a million dollars. So, it is extremely expensive for us being small-business owners here in Nevada.”

Banks are reluctant to lend to cannabis-based businesses, due to the existing federal prohibition on marijuana, so financing for The + Source was put up by the partners themselves. Jolley says that means lenders are subject to additional regulatory scrutiny. Harvest of Tempe was also made a partner in The + Source.

What’s next for Jolley and The + Source? He is keeping his eyes on the fate of Question 2, come November…a measure that would make recreational marijuana legal in Nevada. While Jolley wants the measure to pass, there are opponents of making pot legal in the state.

Local radio personality and political commentator Allen Stock is one of those opposed to making recreational marijuana legal. Stock plans to vote “no” on Question 2.

“It is like drinking,” Stock recalls. “When I was younger, we thought, ‘It’s not bad for us. It’s just a matter of age. But let’s experiment with it now.’ The problem is that kids are using [marijuana] in the fifth grade, and it is destroying their brains because [their brains] are not developed.

“When I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, [my generation] was in our 20s when we tried it.”

While Stock supports the rights of sick people to get medical marijuana, he is opposed to creating marijuana dispensaries in Nevada.

“There shouldn’t be dispensaries. If it is a medical drug, go down to a Walgreens and fill it,” he adds. “If you put dispensaries out there, they will be like drug houses.”

However, Stock believes that marijuana users should only be given tickets for possession in most cases. DUI cases would be different.

“I would criminalize driving under the influence [of marijuana]. If you are doing something that impairs you, don’t drive.”

Valerie Miller is an award-winning journalist who can be reached at