Las Vegas Sun

November 17, 2017

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‘Amsterdam on steroids’: Las Vegas dispensaries brace for Saturday start of recreational sales

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Steve Marcus

People wait in line to purchase medical marijuana during the opening of Euphoria Wellness, 7785 S. Jones Blvd., the first marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas, Aug. 26, 2015. Euphoria is among dozens of stores that will begin recreational marijuana sales in Nevada on Saturday, July 1, 2017.

The Oregon-based Farma dispensary began humbly as a medical marijuana boutique, serving a small portion of Portland with specialty pot products for the better part of a year.

But when recreational sales began on Oct. 1, 2015, owner Sam Heywood saw his customer base increase tenfold overnight, as hundreds of buyers flooded into a 1,200-square-foot dispensary accustomed to serving fewer than several dozen patients a day.

“One day we were a small pharmacy serving only medical patients and the next we were a busy retailer,” Heywood said. “It was fascinating and unusual to say the least.”

Farma was one of more than 100 dispensaries across Oregon to start recreational sales that day, the majority of which loaded up on staffers and inventory to handle lines with scores of eager local and out-of-state marijuana buyers.

Fueled by one of the world’s largest tourism industries, Nevada is preparing to do the same on July 1. A May report published by Gov. Brian Sandoval’s task force on marijuana estimates that up to 63 percent of recreational buyers will be tourists.

“Everything we know shows that millennials are very pro-marijuana, and that’s the new marketing push,” said Nevada state Sen. Tick Segerblom, a longtime marijuana advocate. “This is a game-changer for Las Vegas and tourism here as far as I’m concerned.”

“Amsterdam on steroids,” he added.

Essence Medical Dispensary owner Armen Yemenidjian is one of 37 Las Vegas Valley applicants to receive an early start license to begin recreational sales on Saturday. His dispensary is the closest to the Strip — right on Las Vegas Boulevard north of Sahara Avenue, the dividing line between the Strip and downtown Las Vegas.

Yemenidjian, whose other dispensary on Tropicana Avenue near Jones Boulevard also received an early start license, said his facilities stocked up on more than three months worth of marijuana flower, edibles and concentrates to serve the current medical market and keep pace with expected brisk recreational sales.

Yemenidjian’s location near the Strip, which he said serves more than 200 daily customers but still loses money as a medical-only facility, figures to have some of the longest lines. An average of about 40,000 people a day pass by the dispensary, according to a 2015 Clark County report on pedestrian traffic.

He estimated that his clientele would increase “by two to three times” overnight.

“It’s a historic moment, and I think the growth will be both immediate and gradual,” Yemenidjian said. “We’re ready to go and very excited.”

Following a Carson City judge’s ruling last week that all distribution of the plant from cultivation and production facilities to dispensaries must be carried out only by licensed liquor distributors beyond July 1, dispensary owners were using the last week of medical-only sales to get as much weed into their stores as possible. None of the existing suppliers are liquor distributors.

“We have to be agile and adjust as necessary,” said Adam Denmark Cohen of Jardin Premium Cannabis Dispensary in Las Vegas. “We haven’t gone crazy, but we do anticipate an increase in customers.”

Cohen’s dispensary at Desert Inn and McLeod Drive aims to serve locals and tourists, despite its location away from the more popular tourist areas. Whatever this weekend’s outcome, he said, he wanted to make sure he was ready, loading up on inventory and beefing up staff and security.

In the first weeks of recreational sales in Colorado in 2014, dispensaries watched their shelves empty and marijuana prices skyrocketed as vendors failed to keep up with consumer demand, said Neil Demers of Denver’s Diego Pellicer dispensary.

“It took eight to 10 months for supply to catch up and the market to level out,” he said.

Buyers are still prohibited by state law from consuming marijuana except at private residences, meaning those anxious to smoke or eat their weed products right away must wait until they get home, Metro Officer Laura Meltzer said.

Smoking outside dispensaries, at casinos or even in a parked car could result in a $600 fine. Driving under the influence of marijuana could also earn drivers a fine of $600 to $1,000 and jail time, even for a first offense, Meltzer said.

Metro Police Officer Larry Hadfield said police assistance for crowd and traffic control, similar to that seen during grand openings of popular restaurants like Chick-fil-A, had not been requested by Las Vegas dispensaries as of last week.

North Las Vegas Police Officer Aaron Patty said his department also had not received any such requests.

Dispensary owners indicated they would have added security to handle the opening-day crowds.

“Anything to make sure the first days go smoothly,” Yemenidjian said. “We want to prove we’re legitimate businesses and that we’re in this for the long haul. We’ve come a long way over the past few years and want to do this right.”

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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