Nevada Legalization Is Changing the Las Vegas Scene. Could Consumption Lounges Be Next?

Published on September 11, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Las Vegas, USA - December 13, 2016: Night time aerial view of the Las Vegas strip - a 4.2 mile stretch of road that is bordered by hotels, resorts and casinos including the CityCenter complex, the Cosmopolitan and Planet Hollywood.

Nevada’s legalization has changed the entire tourism industry in Las Vegas. Ever since legal cannabis made its debut on July 1, tourists have been flocking to the dispensaries for a chance to sample the newly regulated green herbs. With a renewed influx of canna-tourists, what does this mean for visitors hoping to enjoy the spoils of the green rush without risking any pesky legal entanglements?

Luckily, Nevada’s regulatory system has made it fairly straightforward for out-of-towners to visit dispensaries and legally purchase up to an ounce of fine, Nevada-grown cannabis, but one lingering conundrum remains: where do you smoke it?

We reached out to Carlos Blumberg, an attorney with De Castroverde Law Group in Las Vegas, along with his business partner, Jo Ann Abajian, who are both founding members of the Nevada Dispensary Association and co-owners of the Apothecarium dispensary.

Where Can You Legally Smoke Cannabis in Las Vegas?

A major concern that has arisen in the recent legalization happening in Sin City is the lack of a proper place to consume cannabis as a tourist.

“It’s only legal if it’s in your own home,” Blumberg explains. It is illegal to consume cannabis in public, and a “public place” is defined as any place open to the public or exposed to public view.

“If your only crime is you’re at the park smoking a joint, they would probably just ask you to put it out rather than charging you with anything.”

As for hotel rooms and Airbnbs, they’re technically considered private property, and thus, management may autonomously make the decision as to whether they allow cannabis consumption onsite. Tourists may have more luck with a private cannabis-friendly Airbnb or a Bud & Breakfast in the area, which specifically caters to cannabis tourists.

Consuming cannabis in a public place, whether it’s a park or walking down the Vegas strip, can earn you a $600 ticket, although Blumberg has not seen a rise in the ticketing of tourists since the state went legal.

“To be honest, there’s been somewhat of a policy even before it went to medical use. My understanding was that [law enforcement’s] time was better spent citing people for other things,” he says. “If your only crime, so to say, is you’re at the park and you’re smoking a joint, they would probably just ask you to put it out rather than charging you with anything.”

What Could Change Moving Forward?

Looking forward to the future, Blumberg anticipates the law may change in regards to public consumption. “Will that change? Maybe in the future,” he ponders. “I could see them setting up something like a hookah lounge around the gaming corridor. It’s the next step, logically.”

“After having watched a couple of other states make some mistakes, Nevada is learning from those mistakes.”

The attitude towards cannabis in the state has been steadily progressing in the past years since medical marijuana was first signed into law in 2001. “Nevada has shifted the view from being completely negative about cannabis to being positive,” Blumberg tells us. “Everybody is fighting for that tax revenue! It’s a whole new industry saying, ‘Tax us! Tax us!’”

Apothecarium co-founder Jo Ann Abaijian acknowledges that Nevada’s implementation process has been slow and steady, but with good reason. “After having watched a couple of other states make some mistakes, Nevada is learning from those mistakes,” she explains. “The regulators have been saying, ‘wait, wait, wait,’ instead of moving forward and having to go back and fix things later.”

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“It’s important to note that Nevada and the legislators here, we try to get it right,” Blumberg continues. “We’ve seen Washington and Colorado go legal, and we’re not Xeroxing anyone’s laws. We’ve seen what’s worked and what hasn’t and we’re trying to make it better.”

Unfortunately, one of the major obstacles standing in the way of legalization comes from an unlikely place: Nevada’s gaming laws. The Nevada Gaming Control Board has already placed incredibly restrictive regulations on casinos and gaming licensees, and owners are wary to introduce a new substance into the mix.

“The gaming regulators don’t want to be involved in the marijuana industry for a lot of different reasons,” Blumberg says. “There’s no banking, [and] they don’t want to have the temptation [only to] then lose their gaming license.”

Although initially there were talks of combining casino play with cannabis consumption, after much deliberation, the Gaming Commission Chairman Tony Alamo shot down the idea. “On one hand you have the gaming industry and on the other hand you have the marijuana industry … The two shall not meet,” he promised.

Until further notice, the report issued from the Gaming Commission stated that their priority “is the prohibition of delivery and consumption of marijuana within the Las Vegas Boulevard Gaming Corridor, H1 Zones, and on the premises of any restricted or non-restricted gaming licensee to comply with the Nevada Gaming Commission and Board’s prohibition of any consumption and possession of marijuana on gaming properties.”

Instead, the likelihood of a separate, alternative area away from the bright lights of the Strip but still accessible to tourists is a more likely possibility. Similar to a hookah lounge or a cannabis social club, it may take years before regulators approach and address the issue, but with canna-tourism on the rise, it’s an issue that will need to be addressed eventually.

Despite the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s regulations, however, the future of legal cannabis in Sin City looks promising and bright. “Come to Las Vegas!” Blumberg exclaims. “It’s legal, it’s tested, and you know exactly what you’re getting. Everybody in town has their own variety and strains. Much like alcohol, some people want a Corona, some people want a Heineken. We check for reviews and find out what people like.”

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Lisa Rough
Lisa Rough
Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.
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