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May 10, 2021

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Las Vegas could see first marijuana lounges open by end of year

Pot lounges

Jeff Chiu / AP

Customers smoke marijuana in the smoking lounge at Barbary Coast Dispensary in San Francisco. Las Vegas is considering an ordinance to allow marijuana lounges.

Las Vegas officials are working to open the state’s first marijuana consumption lounges by the end of the year.

The proposal calls for hookah-style lounges, where legal quantities of pot can be consumed by adults 21 and over, to be operated next to legal dispensaries. The lounge owners would not need a state marijuana establishment license.

“There’s such a push for this — it’s going to be difficult to restrict the lounges to dispensary licensees,” Councilman Bob Coffin said. “That being said, we’re being careful and moving slowly.”

City spokesman Jace Radke said the bill will be heard by a recommending committee in September or early October. The city could start taking applications for the lounges as early as November.

Under the ordinance bill, which Coffin said is a “first draft” and subject to change, lounge owners would be allowed to sell weed paraphernalia, like pipes, bongs, cigarette paper and lighters, but could not sell the plant itself. Customers smoking inside the lounges would not be allowed to be visible to the public outside the venue, meaning outdoor patios or rooftop smoking areas would be banned.

Owners would be able to enact a cover charge and serve food on the premises, per the new ordinance, as long as the food is not marijuana-laced. Alcoholic beverage sales in separate rooms on the premises would also be allowed, as long as the drinks being sold contain less than 11 percent alcohol by volume.

Coffin and Councilwoman Michele Fiore said they expect the new lounges to be up and running by December. Officials have not yet determined whether to cap the number of marijuana lounges.

“We’re not finished yet,” Coffin said.

More than a dozen interviewed marijuana license holders said they plan to open a weed lounge when the ordinance is finalized. Frank Hawkins, who owns Nevada Wellness Center on 3200 Valley View Blvd. near Desert Inn Road, said he’s reserving space on the second floor of his dispensary.

“It’s going to be big business,” Hawkins said.

While adults can legally purchase and possess up to an ounce of marijuana flower or an eighth of an ounce of THC concentrate, consumption is prohibited outside of private residences. That includes casinos, parks and everywhere on the Strip and downtown, leaving an estimated 42 million annual tourists without a place to legally use marijuana.

State law does not explicitly grant permission for marijuana consumption lounges, but Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes said in a September 2017 letter to state Sen. Tick Segerblom that lounges would be permitted on the local level as long as marijuana was not being used unlawfully.

City officials have held two public workshops on the proposal. Initial plans to launch legal consumption lounges last spring were put on hold following a Jan. 4 Department of Justice memorandum from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions encouraging U.S. attorneys in marijuana-legal states to enforce federal law on the plant. Fiore at the time said she didn’t believe the memo was a “huge deal,” but lack of clarity in Nevada law could unintentionally create “criminals” of local marijuana business owners.

The city’s pot lounge effort was relaunched this summer during a public workshop in late June. City officials decided a promise from President Donald Trump to U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado not to interfere with pot policies in weed-legal states cleared the way for Nevada’s industry to move forward.

Recreational marijuana lounges in Denver and San Francisco opened earlier this year.

While city officials are moving forward with the proposed lounges, Clark County commissioners plan to wait for guidance from the 2019 Nevada Legislature before making any decisions. Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said county officials are counting on the state passing legislation allowing for pot venues before moving forward at the local level. Segerblom proposed a similar bill in the 2017 session, but it was unsuccessful.

An item on the county’s Sept. 4 agenda will discuss pot lounges along with potential regulations for new recreational dispensaries to be licensed by the state next month. But Giunchigliani said no action is expected on either items.