An embattled Nevada Department of Taxation official who was in charge of the state’s cannabis licensing process last year has been placed on leave, according to Sun sources.
Licensing chief Jorge Pupo has been placed on leave after allegations of favoritism and improper conduct arose during court hearings about the state’s retail marijuana dispensary application process.
In an email Tuesday, department of taxation spokeswoman Eden Larson said the department had no comment on the matter. The Associated Press cited another department spokesperson as confirming that Pupo was placed on leave.
Pupo’s status comes after a Clark County judge last month determined some of the companies awarded retail marijuana licenses in 2018 could have their licenses frozen.
In her ruling, District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez wrote that the Nevada Department of Taxation acted outside of the law when it decided to perform background checks only on partners with an ownership stake greater than 5% on some license applications involving groups of owners.
Four applicants approved for licenses — Helping Hands Wellness Center, Lone Mountain Partners, Nevada Organic Remedies and Greenmart of Nevada — may have not completed background checks required by the original ballot question legalizing recreational marijuana.
During several appearances on the witness stand during the months-long hearing, Pupo testified that he had contact — including lunch outings — with representatives of businesses attempting to garner a license.
While he said he didn’t believe the process was unfair, Pupo did admit that it wasn’t perfect. The state issued 61 licenses in December out of 462 applications.
During the hearings, attorney Theodore Parker III, who represented one of the plaintiffs in the case, questioned Pupo and the rest of the department of taxation employees who worked on the licensing process.
In an email Tuesday, Parker said he recently learned of Pupo’s employment status.
“I am concerned given Mr. Pupo’s hearing testimony,” Parker said. “Moreover, the court’s consideration of the remaining motions might be affected by this and the underlying reasons behind Mr. Pupo’s departure.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.