[Editor’s Note: The pieces are coming together. 2019 looks like the year we’ll be able to enjoy cannabis in public, socially.]
Local officials in Las Vegas have waited so long to open marijuana lounges, they’re quoting Nelson Mandela to encourage patience from their constituents.
“It always seems impossible until it is done,” said Jacqueline Holloway, Clark County’s director of business development, borrowing a line from the late South African leader last week at a luncheon for Nevada’s largest medical marijuana advocacy group.
Since September 2017, Holloway – whose jurisdiction includes over 1 million residents in Southern Nevada including those living on the Las Vegas Strip – and leaders from the City of Las Vegas, a separate jurisdiction that includes the city’s downtown area, have entertained ideas to open the lounges.
Both jurisdictions say they want to contribute in making Las Vegas the third major U.S. city, after San Francisco and Denver, to allow special facilities for consumption of legal quantities of the plant. They just don’t know how to get there.
In the 2017 Nevada Legislature, former State Sen. Tick Segerblom proposed a bill that would allow local jurisdictions – like Clark County and the City of Las Vegas – to license the facilities on a municipal level. Licenses for other marijuana facilities, like dispensaries, testing laboratories, cultivation and production facilities, are handled by state officials.
The bill failed to pass, but Segerblom still got his way. While Nevada law does not explicitly grant permission for marijuana consumption lounges, Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes said in a September 2017 letter to Segerblom that the lounges would in fact be permitted on the local level as long as marijuana was not being used unlawfully.
Since then, the City of Las Vegas has held two public workshops, asking for input from the marijuana industry on how the consumption lounges should be implemented. The result was an 11-page draft ordinance in late 2017, allowing for marijuana consumption, food sales and even alcohol sales to adults over 21 years of age, in properly ventilated indoor facilities. The draft banned outdoor patios, so smoke wouldn’t cause a problematic odor for businesses and residents outside the consumption lounges.
“We’re going to be careful with this and move slowly,” said Councilman Bob Coffin at the time. “We want to get it right.”
The facilities, first proposed in December 2017, were scheduled to open by Spring 2018.
Last January, when then-U.S. Attorney General issued a Department of Justice memorandum to U.S. Attorneys in marijuana-legal states to do away with Obama-era protections, both local governments in Las Vegas were stopped in their tracks. With the Cole and Wilkinson memos gone, both bodies decided not to proceed.
“It caught a lot of us off guard,” said Bryan Scott, assistant city attorney for Las Vegas. “There are a lot of prominent citizens involved in this industry and it would be good to have some certainty.”
The Clark County Commission, chaired by Steve Sisolak, had previously chosen to pump the brakes on the lounges. Sessions’ memo affirmed their desire to do so, and by January 2018, the lounges were an afterthought.
As the months went on last year without any significant federal law enforcement of marijuana establishments in cannabis-legal states, Both Coffin and Sisolak began to reconsider the lounges. Citing a need to move the industry forward, the city held a third public workshop in June, while the county established a 12-member Green Ribbon Advisory Panel – made of leaders in the marijuana, gaming and law enforcement industries – to try and figure out an ordinance.
Holloway, who’s spearheading the project for the county following Sisolak’s November election victory as Nevada’s new governor, said the Green Ribbon Panel will meet four times from February to June, and present their recommendations to the Clark County Commission for approval and potential vote by July.
“We want to have a set of recommendations that are reasonable, tangible and feasible,” she said last week.
The city, meanwhile, is further along. A recommending committee will hear a revised ordinance for marijuana lounges on Feb. 18. The latest version of the proposed ordinance will not allow for alcohol sales like the original draft. But, unlike in San Francisco and Denver, it allows the lounges to be its own business, located separately from dispensaries.
If approved by the recommending committee, the ordinance could go for a vote before the city council by early March, and the first lounges could be licensed and opened by April.
Regardless of further delays, 2019 almost certainly appears to finally be the year of consumption lounges in Sin City.