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August 20, 2019

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Las Vegas ordinance on weed lounges could overstep authority


Chris Donovan / The New York Times

An employee at a smoking lounge in Toronto is shown exhaling cannabis vapor, Oct. 6, 2018.

Las Vegas’ decision to move forward with marijuana lounges could come into conflict with yet-to-be-determined state regulation, said Chris Giunchigliani, a former Clark County commissioner who is on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s advisory panel for marijuana regulations.

She questioned whether local ordinances on consumption lounges in Las Vegas or anywhere else could lead to inconsistent regulation of an industry that remains illegal at the federal level.

“The whole thing is, when you’re dealing with a federally not-sanctioned issue, you don’t want to call negative attention to it and put the businesses at risk by moving too fast and not having consistent regulation across the state,” she said.

City officials voted Tuesday that lounges are needed to give visitors a place to legally smoke or ingest the substance, which became legal for recreation sales in Nevada two years ago. The city council approved the lounges on a 4-1 vote.

“What I’m advocating for is making sure we as a government agency do not create criminals by basically not giving them an outlet after we’ve passed a state law,” said Councilwoman Michele Fiore, who voted in favor of the lounges.

Sisolak’s cannabis advisory panel is in the process of determining rules to regulate the new industry, including the formation of a Cannabis Control Board. The board would be tasked with determining when and where consumption lounges would be allowed, if at all. It could differ significantly from Las Vegas’ ordinance.

“My question still as a city resident is, I don’t know where [the council’s] authority comes from,” Giunchigliani said. “None of the other jurisdictions have moved forward because they need consumption law to occur.”

The Clark County Commission, for example, weighed crafting an ordinance around marijuana lounges but voted to wait for guidance from the state in February.

Nonetheless, County Commissioner Tick Segerblom — an advocate of legal marijuana businesses in Nevada — said he supports allowing consumption lounges in Las Vegas, with or without state legislation. He added that the county commission might revisit a consumption lounge ordinance of its own for unincorporated Clark County if things move too slowly at the state level. It’s illegal to smoke marijuana on the Strip, which is part of the county’s jurisdiction.

“I don’t want to wait too long,” Segerblom said.