A study mandated more than a decade ago by Nevada lawmakers on medical use of marijuana has gone nowhere, partly because of the lack of available staff and resources at the University of Nevada School of Medicine to carry it out, a legislative committee was told Thursday.
"The legislative mandate is very problematic for us to deal with," Dr. James Kenyon, senior associate dean for medical research, told members of the Interim Finance Committee. "It is fair to say we have made very, very little progress on advancing this forward."
Kenyon inherited oversight the study last fall after the unexpected death of a colleague. The study was ordered by the Nevada Legislature in 2001, a year after voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing medical use of pot.
Among other things, the mandate required the medical school to establish a program "for the evaluation and research of the medical use of marijuana in the care and treatment" of patients with a chronic or debilitation medical condition, contingent upon federal approval.
Kenyon said the school would need a "nationally recognized" authority, such as the National Institutes of Health, to be able to carry out the study.
Without such a relationship, he said he's concerned any research program would be "subpar," or "third rate or even worse."
His assessment drew frustration from some lawmakers.
"It sounds like we've kind of thrown our hands up in the air, we don't have the staff to do it so we're not going to do it," said Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas.
Kenyon said clinical faculty at the medical school earn their salaries through patient care. They spend 80 percent of their time seeing patients, and 20 percent teaching students, he said. That leaves little or no time to conduct detailed studies.
Assemblyman Andy Eisen, D-Las Vegas, a physician who has taught at the med school, said he understands the dilemma but added other options should be explored to carry out the mandate, such as collaborating with other research centers.
Discussion on the study came after lawmakers were asked to approve money out of a contingency fund for the Department to Taxation to upgrade its system to prepare for taxation of medical marijuana.
The 2013 Legislature approved SB374, setting up a network to tax and regulate distribution of medical marijuana beginning in April 2014. While voters approved medical pot 13 years ago, there was no way for them to legally obtain the drug expect to grow it themselves.
The Interim Finance committee approved $520,000 for the taxation department to hire an extra tax examiner and programmers to implement the law.