Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 | 7:42 p.m.
Las Vegas marijuana businesses are calling on the county to take on the big green elephant of its burgeoning industry — public consumption.
The Green Ribbon Panel — an advisory board to the county consisting of representatives from the gaming, resort, marijuana and retail industries — recommended at a meeting this afternoon that county staff ask its attorneys to interpret existing federal guidelines to see whether they allow for the introduction of marijuana consumption lounges. Existing state laws are ambiguous and open to interpretation regarding private businesses.
Such lounges would give visitors a place to legally smoke or consume marijuana, which is something industry officials say is badly needed.
Smoking or consuming marijuana is only allowed at private residences, and not a viable option for most visitors. The county and city have both cracked down on marijuana-related events and ancillary businesses like “weed yoga” and “weed party buses” that could be seen as options for people who don’t have a private residence to smoke at.
“Tourists are so excited (to buy),” says Andrew Jolley, president of the Nevada Dispensary Association and CEO of The+Source dispensaries, “and we have to tell them where they cannot use it. It’s an uncomfortable position for us to be in.”
Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine echoed that concern, calling the current predicament “crazy.”
“It’s ‘Yes, we are open for business, and you can buy it, but you can’t use it, can’t consume it.’”
Armen Yemenidjian, owner of Essence Dispensary, said consumption lounges would benefit the gaming and hospitality industries, which remains wary of all marijuana due to its classification as an illegal substance at the federal level.
“It puts less burden on gaming to regulate and enforce if we found another place for these tourists to be able to consume,” he said.
Tony Alamo, the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Commission, didn’t disagree with Yemenidjian but fell far short of approving of any efforts to explore the existence of consumption lounges. He stressed that the gaming and marijuana industries need to remain separate and distinct.
“Never the two shall meet,” Alamo said.
He went on to argue the board needs to consider “legislative intent.” He pointed out a bill explicitly allowing local governments to craft their own rules regarding public consumption passed the Senate but died in the Assembly, perhaps because Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval seemed opposed.
“What was this law supposed to be?” he asked. “(The Legislature) had a chance to bite at the apple. Should the state do it? Should municipalities do it on their own? We need to walk slowly and methodically.”
He later added the intent of Question 2, which voters approved last November to legalize recreational marijuana, was to allow Nevadans to legally smoke — not tourists coming in from other places.
“Somewhere along the way it went afoul and we started talking about tourism,” he said. “That wasn’t the ballot initiative.”
Alamo questioned whether voters who’d supported Question 2 would support public consumption lounges or any of the accoutrements the expanding local marijuana industry is now trying to make a reality.
Panel members who expressed support of the idea of consumption lounges disagreed on specifics of what they might look like.
Frank Hawkins, the co-owner of Nevada Wellness Center, believes they need to be connected to dispensaries. He was adamant that only marijuana from the dispensary be used, arguing that doing otherwise could be interpreted as supporting the black market because nobody would be able to verify whether the product was obtained legally or illegally.
Others disagreed, saying it should be up to the dispensary or consumption lounge whether it allows outside marijuana to be smoked or consumed there.
Jacqueline Holloway, the director of business licensing for the county, said she would consult with legal and pass along their interpretation of federal guidelines for the board members to review in the future. She also noted that State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, is independently asking the Legislative Counsel Bureau to weigh in on whether municipal governments can regulate consumption lounges without any state guidelines in place.
No deadline or timeline was given for either effort.
The panel was also tasked with discussing safety and home delivery issues. Those two issues were brought forth by county staff in response to a rash of attempted robberies as local marijuana businesses since recreational sales went into effect on July 1 and a complaint received from a dispensary employee concerned about using his or her own vehicle in order to make home deliveries.
The panel largely demurred on making official recommendations on both issues. On the first issue, they asked for a presentation or information from Metro in order to determine whether the dozen or so attempted robberies correlated with any existing security measures or possible risk factors. Jolley added that the Nevada Dispensary Association is currently revising its recommendations regarding security measures.
On the latter, they believed it necessary to wait for the state department of taxation to hand down its permanent regulations regarding recreational marijuana sales. An early draft of the proposed permanent state regulations banned home delivery for recreational marijuana, but the state is revisiting the topic and may reverse course.
“We have to wait and see if the state allows it,” Yemenidjian said. “We can reconvene then with that framework and offer full recommendations.”
Permanent regulations are expected from the state within the next few weeks.
Editor’s note: Brian Greenspun, the CEO, publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun, has an ownership interest in Essence Cannabis Dispensary.