Las Vegas Sun

September 22, 2019

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Las Vegas won’t approve marijuana lounges — for now

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.

The campaign to bring marijuana lounges to Las Vegas isn’t over, but it has been postponed until May at the earliest.

The Las Vegas City Council voted down a measure Wednesday that would have allowed licensed marijuana retail stores and dispensaries to apply to open marijuana “social use venues,” often referred to as marijuana lounges. These businesses would offer customers the opportunity to consume cannabis in a confined, but public, social environment, much like a bar or café.

It’s legal to purchase marijuana from an authorized dispensary or store in Las Vegas. But the more than 40 million tourists who visit the city each year aren’t allowed to consume the product in most hotels and in public places, including casinos, bars, restaurants and on the street.

That’s why representatives of the cannabis industry have been pushing for the city to allow marijuana lounges. Industry representatives spoke in favor of the measure, put forth by Councilor Bob Coffin, at the council meeting Wednesday. They emphasized that the lounges would bring tax money to the city, attract more tourists to Las Vegas and reduce the incidence of people smoking in unauthorized places.

“I think that by providing them a safe place, not only are you allowed to get a lot of tax revenue for this, but you’re also creating jobs,” said Lindsey Mora, a representative of Cannabition, a cannabis-themed museum downtown.

Under Coffin’s ordinance, licensed marijuana businesses in Nevada would be able to apply for a special use permit to open a consumption lounge, which would sell cannabis to be consumed on site. Interested businesses would be required to create an air control plan to keep fumes confined to the establishment.

Smoking would not be permitted outdoors, and businesses would not be able to provide alcohol on site. The city would charge a $5,000 annual licensing fee for all consumption lounges.

The majority of city councilors opposed the measure, saying they needed more time to tweak the proposed ordinance and hear the concerns of those resistant to marijuana lounges.

Coffin, Michelle Fiore and Cedric Crear and Mayor Pro Tem Lois Tarkanian voted to abbey the measure until the May 1 council meeting. Mayor Carolyn Goodman abstained from the vote due to a conflict of interest, and Councilor Stavros Anthony voted against the motion.

Coffin’s proposed ordinance came as the state is still in the process of creating a Cannabis Compliance Board, whose members would set regulations on Nevada’s growing marijuana industry, including under what circumstances to allow cannabis lounges or social venues. Former Clark County commissioner and state lawmaker Chris Giunchigliani, who has been appointed by Gov. Steve Sisolak to help set up the board, questioned whether the city could legally open consumption lounges in a recent interview with the Sun.

“We’re thinking, ‘Well, wait a minute, you don’t really have authority under state law to just create consumption lounges,’” she said, suggesting that the council wait until the advisory panel puts out recommendations on the matter.

Clark County, which includes the Strip, decided in February not to make a decision on lounges until getting direction from the state.

Opponents of Coffin’s ordinance, many of whom work in or for the gaming industry, agreed that the city shouldn’t move on consumption lounges until getting approval from the legislature or Cannabis Compliance Board.

“Our biggest concern is, why the rush?” said Erin McMullen, director of government affairs at Boyd Gaming. “Wait until the Cannabis [Compliance] Board says something.”

Others worried whether cannabis lounges could exacerbate the issue of public intoxication in popular tourist spots, including the Strip and Fremont Street.

“We are concerned about any encroachments closer than we have now,” said Patrick Hughes, president and CEO of the Fremont Street Experience. “I’m also concerned about different levels of inebriation on the streets. It’s already a major problem.”

Others expressed displeasure with the ordinance’s stipulation that only licensed dispensaries could open marijuana lounges, saying this would exclude residents looking to break into the industry. They also questioned whether the $5,000 licensing fee was unrealistic for first-time business owners.

“I want to make sure others can get into this industry,” said Mark Cohen, representing investors in the local cannabis industry.

Coffin defended his proposed ordinance, arguing that the city shouldn’t wait for the legislature to set guidelines for consumption lounges given the high demand for them in Las Vegas. He also said that residents and interest groups have had ample time to give input on the matter, and would have additional opportunities before permits were granted.

“There is a special use permit requirement. That gives everybody a chance to say no about having something close by their business,” Coffin said.

But he agreed to abbey the measure until May, giving councilors more time to mull over the proposed ordinance.

Voting against delaying the measure, Anthony said he would not support something that could negatively impact the gaming industry, and suggested taking a regional approach to consumption lounges.

“My vote would be to kill this thing, get started sometime this summer, and talk about what these will look like in southern Nevada, not just the City of Las Vegas,” he said.