Light Up, But Where? Legislators Consider Public Consumption Laws

As Nevada heads toward legal adult recreational marijuana, much fuss has been made over where it will be grown, how it will be purchased, what dosing and packaging will be permitted. But the crucial question is: Where will people consume it?

It’s a problem most cannabis-friendly states haven’t addressed, but Nevada is trying to get ahead of potential problems with SB 236, which will create licenses and permits to “operate certain businesses in which the use of marijuana is allowed or to allow the use of marijuana at certain events.” Senator Tick Segerblom, who sponsored the bill, points out that, “With over 40 million tourists coming to Las Vegas every year, we can’t expect them to purchase marijuana and not have a place to use it. So, unless we want them smoking on the Strip, we need to provide fun and safe venues.”

Designated spaces for consumption are especially crucial in Las Vegas, where it’s anticipated that tourists will make up a large part of the cannabis market. Due to gaming license issues—marijuana is still federally illegal—consumption on casino/resort property is strictly prohibited, and most visitors do not have access to private property, which is currently the only place it’s legal to enjoy your weed. Joe Brezny of Parallax Strategies, a cannabis government affairs and strategic consulting firm, points out that, “If you offer an incentive to the person purchasing this to consume it in a place where you know we’re consuming it, that’s great for public safety. That’s great for the police. Because then we’re not smoking it in the alley behind the hotel or in the hotel room or in the parking garage.”

“I saw this guy in a suit behind the Four Seasons smoking a joint and he looked guilty as hell. He asked me, ‘Where else am I supposed to do this?’” – Ricardo Baca, formerly of The Cannabist 

As to the types of open-consumption venues we might see, “The sky is the limit,” says Segerblom. “Bars, cafes, streets, hotels, wedding chapels, concerts, festivals, yoga studios, massages—why not let the tourists decide what they want? Marijuana is legal and it should be treated like alcohol.” Events like marijuana-augmented art classes and potluck (heh heh) dinners are already quietly happening in Las Vegas, but the goal is to offer a variety of spaces and activities where people can safely enjoy cannabis. “We believe that Las Vegas is a great destination for marijuana tourism,” says Scot Rutledge, also of Parallax, adding that “Nevada’s existing medical marijuana regulations are often cited as the gold standard, and we fully expect our recreational regulations to hold us to the same standards.”

While Nevada is the fifth state to legalize recreational adult marijuana use, it’s the first to actually consider the consumption part of the equation at the outset. At the recent Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center, a panel on “Monetizing Cannabis” discussed the issue. Moderator Ricardo Baca, formerly of Colorado’s The Cannabist, noted that his state legalized adult use, but didn’t create a safe space to consume, leading to some odd outcomes. “I saw this guy in a suit behind the Four Seasons smoking a joint and he looked guilty as hell,” Baca recalled, “he asked me, ‘Where else am I supposed to do this?’” The intent of cannabis lounges is to keep tourists from lighting up a doob in the Caesars Palace loading zone; it also offers a new set of business opportunities. “There are a lot of entrepreneurs, restaurateurs and nightclub owners who are very interested in cannabis,” Baca pointed out.

One less-considered upside to consumption lounges is that it will offer more chances for small businesses to get in on the cannabis industry. “You don’t need $3 million in the bank to rent a closed-down restaurant that’s near the Strip and put a security guard at the door, put in a smoke management system and allow people to smoke marijuana,” says Brezny. “So this is something [for] the members of our community who wanted to get into the industry, but were barred simply because the financial requirements were so high for marijuana presales.”

Of course, having a place to smoke doesn’t help when you don’t have anything to smoke. Legislative progress toward recreational sales continues, and they’ll come not too far in the future, according to Rutledge. “We’re hopeful sales will begin by July 4th weekend. What better way to celebrate America’s independence than offering another exercise in personal freedom?”