Reciprocity, Baby: Leafly’s Medical Cannabis Guide to Las VegasBruce BarcottJanuary 31, 2016
Nevada isn’t the only state to recognize out-of-state medical marijuana cards, but it is the most permissive, and its enormous tourist trade has made it the most visible test case for MMJ reciprocity. The state’s first dispensaries opened last August, and they’ve seen a steady flow of fly-in traffic.
“Our patients are about 50 percent out-of-state,” Las Vegas ReLeaf co-owner Al Fasano told me recently. Fasano and I were talking in the upscale, club-like atmosphere of his dispensary on Paradise Road, in the shadow of the Stratosphere tower. It was a Thursday afternoon, and Fasano’s budtenders were bustling.
Dispensaries like ReLeaf are likely to get even busier. About 11,000 medical-card holders live in southern Nevada, but Las Vegas welcomes 40 million visitors a year. If only 1 percent of those tourists hold MMJ cards, that’s a potential market of 400,000 patients.
The state sparked fierce competition when it earmarked 12 dispensary licenses for the city of Las Vegas. Applicants were graded in a host of categories — security, financing, environmental plan, etc. — and the most robust business plans won the coveted licenses. For patients, that means the dispensaries are well financed, beautifully designed, and expertly managed.
Stepping into a Vegas dispensary, in fact, can be a jarring experience. Outside might be a gritty, sun-blasted streetscape or an obscure strip mall, but push through the door and you’ll enter a plush, upscale retreat. Las Vegas ReLeaf features modern lounge seating and a massive, flat-screen menu. Sahara Wellness, just up the street, has the cool feel of a destination medical resort. “We wanted the interior to be respectful, safe, clean, and comfortable,” Sahara Wellness co-owner Brenda Gunsallus told me. Behind us, a water feature burbled down the wall. “We wanted to offer a calming effect when people come in.”
Vegas is known for its cutthroat competition, but so far the dispensary business runs counter to that vibe. “This industry is still so small here,” Gunsallus said. “We’re in the same business, but we’re not really competitors. We had one guy run out of bags last week, and we all pitched in to help him out.”
What to Know If You Go
- Valid MMJ cards from all medical marijuana states are accepted. You’ll also need to present government-issued ID.
- Purchase limit: 2.5 ounces every 14 days. Your purchase will be entered into a state database with real-time tracking, so you’ll be denied if you try to exceed the limit. Calculating flower is easy, but it gets tricky when you start adding edibles and other products. One-on-one budtender consultations are essential.
- There are odd state rules regarding product touching in the dispensary, so take it slow, don’t grab, let your budtender guide you through the process. Just like table games at the casino.
- As in other states, public consumption is illegal.
- Product selection is a little limited, as producers and processors are still ramping up. A variety of flower strains, edibles, topicals, tinctures, transdermals, and concentrates are available.
- Prices are higher than Colorado, Washington, and Oregon patients are used to. The $18 gram is common here.
- Nevada has weird regulations. It’s illegal to water ski or surf while under the influence of medical marijuana. Not a joke. Also illegal to possess a firearm while under the influence. Also illegal to “embark on an amusement ride.” So if you’re medicating, maybe skip the SlotZilla Zip Line.
- Nevada has tough DUI laws. Its blood level per se limit is 2 nanograms per milliliter, which is far below the 5 ng/ml of Washington and Colorado. Nobody should be driving in Vegas anyway. Nothing good can come of it. Uber or cab it, always.
Some of our favorite dispensaries are located near the northern end of The Strip, not far from the Stratosphere. Las Vegas ReLeaf remains one of the most popular, with budtenders who know how to handle the lively, out-of-state trade. Sahara Wellness, which just opened this week, features a female-friendly, patient-centered vibe, more spa than club. Coming soon: Essence Vegas, the first dispensary actually on Las Vegas Boulevard (aka The Strip), which expects to open in early March.
2244 Paradise Rd.
Las Vegas, NV
11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Sunday – Thursday
11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Friday – Saturday
“Things were slow in the beginning, but as you can see, people are now flowing in,” Las Vegas ReLeaf co-owner Al Fasano told me during my visit last month. He ain’t kidding: On its first day, ReLeaf saw a grand total of eight patients. Those days are over — ReLeaf is now one of the most popular dispensaries in the city. “We had to adjust a little,” Fasano said. The shop originally opened at 8 a.m., but this city doesn’t stir till noon. “So now we’re open at 11 a.m. and it seems to work out.” ReLeaf stocks flower from Green Life Productions, one of Nevada’s most visible up-and-coming grow operation, and stocks a number of familiar brands: Dixie tinctures, JuJu Joints, and Mary’s Medicinals CBD patches.
Distance from Bellagio Fountain: 2 1/2 miles north
Vibe: Where the experienced California MMJ patient shops
Look for: High-quality flower and an expanding line of concentrates
420 E. Sahara Ave
Las Vegas, NV
10 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily
If you’re not deep into cannabis culture, don’t worry. Neither was Sahara Wellness co-owner Brenda Gunsallus. “When we found our location two years ago, we didn’t even give the address a second thought,” she said with a smile. “We didn’t know what 420 meant!” Gunsallus, a former tennis pro, came to cannabis through adult friends who found medical relief from seizures. After looking into the medical research, she found her calling. She and her business partners took over an old gold-exchange building on Sahara Avenue and gave it a radical makeover, with warm weathered-plank walls, water features, artwork, and a calming atmosphere. “We want to spent time with our patients, get to know them. I’m in this industry to help people,” she told me. “We’re going to focus on high-quality CBD, maybe not the highest THC,” she said. “A lot of our patients are managing glaucoma, PTSD, and anxiety disorders. We want this to be a warm, welcoming place for them.”
Distance from Bellagio Fountain: 2 3/4 miles north
Vibe: Female-friendly Sahara caters to patients who want a little more consult time at the counter.
Look for: Expanded line of high-CBD products, topicals, tinctures
Image Source: Las Vegas ReLeaf