Medical Pot Comes to Nevada

Pierre Werner has a (hazy) vision. He's a medical marijuana provider, and wants to create Nevada's first compassion club for the product's users -- and not even the law will get in his way of creating it.

"I've been doing this all my life -- providing medical marijuana even before it was considered medical," he says.

Werner is the president of Primary Caregivers and Consultants, a company he created to provide medical marijuana to patients and offer physician-approved recommendations. He also consults attorneys and physicians on Nevada's Medical Marijuana Program. Currently he services 15 patients, eight of whom are registered with the Department of Agriculture's Medical Marijuana Program.

"After seeing so many dying patients in pain, I felt obligated to do something," he says, adding that he is not considered a caregiver since the state only allows one patient per caregiver.

One thing Werner can be considered is ballsy. Even though compassion clubs are prohibited in Nevada, he's going to open shop no matter what. Through the club, Werner will recommend physicians, caregivers and recipes for growing medical marijuana, as well as provide the product. All he needs to get his compassion club started is more patients, which really means more money.

The way he's going to operate his club is what will make it work, Werner says. Instead of being located in one place, his operation will be mobile.

When the Nevada Legislature initially envisioned a state medical marijuana program, it considered using a single state agency to distribute marijuana to qualified patients (according to Nevada Lawyer, which is published by the State Bar of Nevada). But after examining the medical marijuana programs in California and Oregon, the preferred course of action the state decided on left the supply and distribution "in the hands of patients," meaning a patient's plant can be shared with other patients, Werner explains.

The problem California cannabis clubs had with raids by federal agents discouraged the creation of a single agency. So instead of taking responsibility for supplying medical pot to patients from a central location, Nevada just said it's fine to smoke up with a doctor's note -- but where a patient finds this medicine is the patient's responsibility. A patient can grow it, but the state can't provide.

That's where Werner comes in.

"Supply and distribution matters are left to us," he says. "So as a patient, I should be able to provide to my fellow patients. Instead of the streets, I want to provide a safe environment for these people."

One of the significant aspects of Nevada's medical marijuana law is that a person who is legitimately engaged in or assisting in marijuana's medical use may raise an "affirmative defense" to certain criminal charges such as possession or distribution, according to Nevada Lawyer. This applies to any caregiver or patient regardless of whether that person is registered with the DOA.

And that affirmative defense is what Werner says protects medical marijuana providers.

"Say I'm not a patient and just an average Joe selling marijuana. If I sell to a medical marijuana patient, I cannot be charged with selling to that patient because that is now medical marijuana," he explains. "The average Joe is protected from certain charges."

A patient has the right to grow marijuana; and Werner says that if a patient grows too much, that person should be able to sell the excess. Werner sells his medical marijuana based on stress. Mexican stress sells for $80 to $100 per ounce and hydroponic stress goes for $300 to $350 an ounce.

"That's a legitimate use of medical marijuana," Werner says. "I tell my patients that if they grow too much, they can sell to me and I'll sell to the other patients."

But Jennifer Bartlett, program manager of Nevada's Medical Marijuana Program, says there is a limit to how much a patient can grow, and what is grown can't be sold. Under state law, a patient can have up to seven marijuana plants, Bartlett says.

"A patient can have four immature plants, three mature plants and an ounce of smoke-able marijuana under Nevada law," she says, explaining that a mature plant by the state's definition is a plant whose bud can be seen with the naked eye. "What a patient grows is just for their use."

Bartlett made it clear that the DOA is not affiliated with Werner's operation. And Werner, a registered DOA patient with a bipolar condition, wanted it made clear that since a patient cannot be a caregiver, he isn't one. He's simply a provider.

So, what's the difference?

If a DOA-registered patient is extremely sick, the patient can opt to have a caregiver care for them and their medical marijuana. That person -- usually the spouse or a family member of the patient -- must also register with the DOA.

Successful registration occurs after the patient's physician approves the applicant, who can never have been convicted of selling a controlled substance. Also, the person must sign a waiver acknowledging an understanding of the program and that they won't hold the state responsible for any delirious outcomes (such as a car accident while under the influence). Currently, there are 216 patients and 24 caregivers registered in Nevada, says Bartlett.

Werner says DOA registration is unnecessary because of affirmative defense, which protects anyone distributing to a patient.

"Approval from a medical doctor is all a patient and caregiver need to be legally recognized by the state and be afforded the same protections under affirmative defense," he says.

But there is one thing Werner wants understood -- all his clients are doctor-approved.

"I don't mess with recreational marijuana. I only sell medical marijuana."

Medical marijuana patients can contact Werner at 702-328-4420.

Mike Zigler is a CityLife staff writer.

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