‘Black-market’ marijuana shows no down-sizing after year of legal pot sales, Reno deputy police chief says

By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers

Reno police have seen no decrease in the marijuana black market a year after legal, recreational marijuana dispensaries first opened in Nevada, Mac Venzon, Reno’s deputy police chief, said Thursday on Nevada Newsmakers.

“We have not seen a decrease in the black market and we kind of expected we would,” Venzon said.

Illegal marijuana on the black market is cheaper than legal pot since it is not subject to state and local taxes, Venzon said.


“The black market, of course, is going to undercut that (legal pot prices),” he said. “We expected to see a little bit of that but we also expected to see some reduction in the black market and thus far we have not seen that.”

Venzon said he gauges illegal sales through ongoing narcotic sting operations where marijuana is still prevalent.

“We will run sting operations on narcotics and have buys of narcotics and what we have found in those operations is that we don’t have any fewer cases than we did previously to the legalization of marijuana,” Venzon said. “That number (of those caught illegally selling pot) remains the same in post legalization.”

Veteran Nevadan Journalist Ray Hagar is known for fair and tough reporting and invigorating commentary.

Reno police, however, have seen a rise in marijuana/DUI cases since the legal pot dispensaries opened their doors in July of 2017.

Venzon is not sure that means the number of people driving while stoned has increased from previous years — only that RPD techniques in spotting stoned drivers has improved.

“We have seen an increase in driving under the influence in marijuana but I don’t know if I am ready to attribute that to the legalization,” he said. “Here’s why: When we knew legalization of marijuana was coming, we really got together with some colleagues from Colorado (where marijuana was already legal) and learned a lot about what they had gone through. What they suggested we do is train all of our officers in spotting the under-the-influence signs and symptoms that are attributed to marijuana, and exclusively attributed to marijuana.

“Marijuana impairs your ability to judge distances,” Venzon said. “So what you’ll see is people (on pot) will slow down very early before a stop light. As far as driving patterns go, they will turn out in front of another car because that depth perception is impaired.

“On the roadside, when you do the field sobriety testing, if someone is under the influence of marijuana, their eyes are unable to converge, although this also occurs with about 3 percent of the population anyway without marijuana.

“And so we’ll give you the (field sobriety) test where you’d follow my finger with your eyes and not move your head. When I get my finger closer to your nose, your eyes should cross. Under the influence of marijuana, your eyes have the inability to converge. So what we did, we trained our officers on how to spot that.”

Venzon stressed that all Reno police officers received the marijuana/DUI training.

“We trained the entire department on how to recognize someone under the influence of drugs, particularly marijuana, based on our conversations with folks in Colorado,” he said.

Northern Nevada is currently home to 13 recreational marijuana dispensaries, 18 cultivators, 14 production facilities and two laboratories, according to research by Jennifer Kane of the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Yet Venzon said those operating legal pot shops in Reno have given police no trouble or issues.

“We have no no issues with dispensaries in terms of how they are managed and how they are run,” he said.

Venzon, however, is opposed the proposed legalization of marijuana bars in Nevada.

Currently, the only legal place to consume marijuana under Nevada law for those 21 and older is a private residence. State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, and others have suggested legalizing marijuana bars, giving tourists — and locals — a legal social club where they could consume cannabis.

Venzon sees trouble with marijuana/DUIs if the pot bars were legal.

“I don’t know if I would be in favor of that,” he said. “We have enough issues right now with alcohol in terms of how people leave bars, being under the influence. My biggest concern is folks getting behind the wheel of a car after they have consumed either alcohol or marijuana. And to allow for one more substance to be out there, it doesn’t really excite me a whole lot.

“I am just a little reluctant to have folks ingesting some sort of other intoxicant in a public place and then getting behind the wheel,” he said.

If Reno police catch someone smoking marijuana in public — but not operating a vehicle — it is unlikely stern action would be taken, Venzon said.

“A lot of times we’ll start with a warning,” he said. “It is a misdemeanor crime. It can start with a warning and depending on the situation, it could go up to a citation. But generally speaking, with a little bit of education, what you see is people saying, ‘Oh I thought it was legal?’ Well it is legal to possess but you can’t ingest it in public. And so with a little bit of education, it tends to take care of that problem.”

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