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September 25, 2017

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Nevada regulators reaffirm stance that pot and gaming don’t mix

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L.E. Baskow

Customers at the Essence cannabis shop on Las Vegas Boulevard South line up as sales of recreational marijuana began at midnight in Nevada on Saturday, July 1, 2017.

When it comes to recreational marijuana here, the message from the Nevada Gaming Commission to casino companies is clear: Stay away from the newly legal industry, whether it’s pot use by customers or business relationships with the weed industry.

The commission discussed the issue Thursday during its monthly meeting at the request of the gaming industry and the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the enforcement arm of the state’s gaming regulatory structure.

Commission Chairman Tony Alamo said it had discussed the issue twice before — once after Nevada began selling pot for medical use in 2015 and then again last December, shortly after voters approved legalized recreational sales.

Alamo said he thought the commission’s message had been clear but said it was obvious the industry and the board wanted more direction.

“Today, we have five commissioners present, live and in color,” he said, referring to past marijuana discussions when some commissioners were absent and others recused themselves. “I want to make sure my colleagues were in agreement with comments I’ve made. … I’ve stated the following, that marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug making it illegal under federal law.”

Because of that, “the commission can’t allow licensees to knowingly within their sidewalks knowingly break federal law,” Alamo said.

Three of the four other commissioners — Randolph Townsend, Philip M. Pro, and Deborah J. Fuetsch — agreed, often emphatically, with Alamo’s position throughout the meeting.

Commissioner John T. Moran Jr. agreed that pot and gaming shouldn’t mix, but differed in his reasoning.

“One has to ask how we can change years and years and years of gaming history and ignore a federal felony and say that doesn’t count,” he said, acknowledging that the commission can’t condone violations of federal law.

But Moran then cited NRS 453D, the Nevada law that legalized weed, as the main reason he thinks marijuana should not be used in casino resorts.

“Anyone using marijuana In a public place is guilty of a misdemeanor,” Moran said, quoting the law. “The parameters and goal posts have been established and we can’t move them one way or the other,” he added.

“That makes it pretty clear,” he said. “It’s not going to be allowed in a public place until the law gets changed or doesn’t get changed.”

After broadly discussing gaming and marijuana, the commission addressed three issues on the meeting’s agenda: Events at casinos that promote marijuana; business relationships between gaming companies or gaming executives and the marijuana business; and licensees receiving financing from or providing financing to marijuana businesses.

However, the commissioners avoided specifics and largely repeated their general disapproval of any connection between gaming and the use or the business of marijuana.

In fact, Alamo pointedly said the commission wouldn't create detailed rules regarding marijuana, even though board member Terry Johnson asked the commission at least twice for specific policies instead of broad policy statements.

“We’re not setting policy here,” Alamo said. “We are discussing and interpreting the law as it stands.”

Pro, a former district court judge, compared the commission’s statements to the Bill of Rights or the Constitution. The commission was offering guidance, Pro said, that will have to be interpreted as each individual case comes before the board and commission.

“I don’t think stating a broad policy we can anticipate every situation,” Pro said.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised. An earlier version erroneously stated that the commission was acting on an order from the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

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