Las Vegas Sun

September 24, 2017

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Here for the history’: Recreational marijuana sales get underway in Las Vegas

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L.E. Baskow

Customers wait in a long line at Reef Dispensaries beside food trucks as recreational sales of marijuana begin at Midnight in Nevada and dispensaries across Las Vegas are open too on Friday, June 30, 2017.

Playing cellphone games and making small talk with her boyfriend to pass the time, Destiny Diaz stood in line for nearly three hours at the Jardin Premium Cannabis dispensary in central Las Vegas to celebrate what some were calling the end of marijuana prohibition in Nevada.

“It’s a great day and something people have been waiting a long time for,” she said. “We weren’t going to miss this.”

Diaz, 21, of Las Vegas, was among thousands of people who crowded into Las Vegas dispensaries early today as recreational marijuana sales became legal in Nevada. The sales kickoff came nearly nine months after voters approved a ballot question to legalize recreational use of the drug, and two years after sales of medical marijuana became legal.

Recreational Weed Sales Start

Many customers waiting in a long line at Reef Dispensaries wear weed-related items as recreational sales of marijuana begin at Midnight in Nevada and dispensaries across Las Vegas are open too on Friday, June 30, 2017. Launch slideshow »

Under the new law, adults 21 and older can legally purchase of up to 1 ounce of marijuana or up to one-eighth ounce of marijuana concentrates per day. More than 35 Las Vegas Valley dispensaries began recreational sales today, with many opening just after midnight for the special occasion.

After being guided through the Jardin dispensary by owner Adam Denmark Cohen and two staff members, Diaz and her boyfriend, Bryant Teixiera, placed a small package of high THC-wax concentrate on the counter. A half gram of the wax cost the couple $65.

“It was expensive,” Diaz said after she walked out of the dispensary, smiling as she showed her purchase to customers still waiting in line. “But we’re here for the history.”

At Reef Dispensary, located on 3400 Western Ave. just east of the Strip, Las Vegas resident Steve Evans sat calmly at the bottom of a small staircase in front of the dispensary’s main door, holding his place at the front of the line just before midnight. A local resident for 35 years, Evans, 54, said he arrived just before 7:30 p.m. and that the nearly five-hour wait Friday night was the longest he had been away from his home in over eight years.

“I want an ounce of Gorilla Glue 4, and then I’m going home to sink into the sofa and be with my wife,” Evans said, referring to one of the dispensary’s best-selling marijuana flower strains. “Pretty simple.”

Behind Evans, in a line that stretched halfway around the perimeter of Reef Dispensary’s 165,000-square-foot building, Las Vegans Ted Heriford and Aaron Gilbert stood in marijuana leaf-patterned T-shirts and shorts with friends Mariah Eisler, Ri Jabbora and Sara Goldberg. The five friends, all in their mid-20s, said they each had over $1,000 cash and planned to spend their money on a variety of marijuana flower, vaping products and THC wax.

No one in the group had made purchases in other weed-legal states before Saturday. Adding a legal market for recreational sales in Nevada was relieving, they said, because they would no longer have to rely on black market street dealers to supply them with the drug.

“This is a time to celebrate,” Gilbert said. “We’ve been talking about this day since we were 13, 14 years old.”

As both customers and dispensary operators tried to adapt to the new industry, however, hiccups occurred. Dispensaries in Clark County and the city of Las Vegas closed at 3 a.m. as mandated under local ordinances, and the huge lines at those locations meant that hundreds of customers weren't served. At Reef's, customers were given a coupon and referred to the company’s dispensary in North Las Vegas, where 24-hour operations are allowed.

“We just had a lot more people than we could get through in three hours,” Reef spokesman Adam Laikin said. “We almost got them all through but we did have to turn away the last part of our line.”

Frequent buyers from Nevada’s medical marijuana industry, used to receiving promotional discounts from the dispensaries, also expressed frustration in what they called an unexpected price increase on medical products. Paul Pastwa, a medical marijuana cardholder who said he shops at Jardin twice a week, complained that a half-ounce of marijuana flower climbed from $60 to over $100 for medical buyers since he last shopped at the dispensary.

“We understood that recreational buyers would have to pay more, but not medical,” he said. “My price has doubled overnight.”

Cohen, Jardin's owner, said he was forced to raise prices because of a state-mandated increase in marijuana wholesale distribution taxes for shipment of items from cultivation and production facilities to dispensaries. Cohen’s dispensary, like most across the valley, offered medical buyers a 10 percent discount compared to prices for recreational buyers.

Essence Cannabis Dispensary, which opened two locations at midnight Saturday, saw a combined 1,200 customers at its Strip-based location at 2307 S. Las Vegas Blvd., near Sahara Avenue, and its other store on 5675 W. Tropicana Ave. Among the shoppers at the tourist-heavy location on the Strip were an Oklahoma-based father and two sons in their 20s, who proudly held up vaping products they had each purchased for $45.

Touting the vaping products as “a healthy alternative to help you relax and help your breathing,” the father, an attorney, and his two sons requested anonymity because possession of marijuana in their home state carries a misdemeanor charge, per Oklahoma state law, and a failed drug test for marijuana “will get you fired instantly.”

But shopping at the dispensary was worth the risk, they said, because it added “a whole new twist” to their annual Las Vegas vacation.

“Even if we don’t do it until we come here next year, it’s part of the Vegas experience now,” the father said. “It’s significantly cheaper here than on the street where we’re from.”

Editor’s note: Brian Greenspun, the CEO, publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun, has an ownership interest in Essence Cannabis Dispensary.

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