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October 24, 2017

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County commissioners pump the brakes on marijuana lounges

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Brennan Linsley / AP

In this Dec. 31, 2013, file photo, partygoers smoke marijuana during a Prohibition-era themed New Year’s Eve party at a bar in Denver, celebrating the start of retail pot sales. Denver is working on becoming the first city in the nation to allow marijuana clubs and public pot use in places like restaurants, yoga studios and art galleries.

Marijuana lounges won’t be opening in Clark County any time soon, as commissioners decided unanimously today to put off addressing the issue until at least December.

“I’m very concerned and I want to protect the industry,” Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said after an 80-minute discussion at today’s meeting.

“We don’t want to give them an opinion that it’s OK based on us passing an ordinance, then having the attorney general come in and crack down,” he said.

The debate came after a Sept. 10 opinion by the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau saying public lounges for people to imbibe in recreational marijuana would not be illegal under state law.

The opinion, requested by state Sen. Tick Segerblom, said local governments have the ultimate authority to regulate such lounges. Segerblom unsuccessfully introduced legislation earlier this year to explicitly grant local governments that power.

County Counsel Mary-Anne Miller said the LCB opinion goes “a little further” than the county might in interpreting Nevada’s recreational marijuana law. But there may be room in county code to establish licensed pot lounges, she said.

Sisolak initially asked Miller to prepare legal guidance regarding the lounges, but after the other six commissioners balked, he said the issue would not be revisited for three to six months.

“The fundamental question is whether we even support consumption lounges at this time,” Commissioner Larry Brown said.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said the gaming and tourism industries could be put “at risk” by poorly regulated lounges, drawing unwanted attention from federal officials.

Among problems raised by Giunchigliani, Brown and Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick were the potential for the smell of marijuana coming from lounges and black-market marijuana being brought into lounges.

Gov. Brian Sandoval also has taken exception to last week’s LCB opinion, arguing that public lounges could open “piecemeal” throughout the state, with differing rules and regulatory structures.

Sandoval called on the state Attorney General’s Office to issue an opinion with the Nevada Department of Taxation. Neither office has commented since the LCB opinion was issued.

Speaking at today’s meeting, Riana Durrett of the Nevada Dispensary Association called for any pot lounge licenses to be issued exclusively to existing marijuana establishment owners who have already “proven themselves.”

The commission left further discussion of the lounges for now with the Clark County Green Ribbon Panel, which advises it on marijuana policy.

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