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May 26, 2019

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The status of marijuana lounges, banking and legislation in Nevada

Green Life Productions

Steve Marcus

Workers trim marijuana buds in the Green Life Productions grow facility trim room in Las Vegas Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Nevada is coming up on two years of legalized marijuana.

Las Vegas ordinance on weed lounges could overstep authority

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 April 30 that lounges are needed to give visitors a place to legally smoke or ingest the substance, which became legal for recreational sales in Nevada two years ago. The city council approved the lounges on a 4-1 vote.

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.

— Miranda Willson

While a few of the issues that have surfaced under legalization were taken up by the state Legislature this session, most of the bills have failed to meet deadlines and were left up to other governing bodies or committees. From driving under the influence to taxation to where people can smoke cannabis, here’s a breakdown of where things stand.

Driving

Aden Ocampo-Gomez, a public information officer with Metro Police, said specific statistics on the cause of DUI arrests are not kept.

The department does issue annual reports, however, which include overall DUI arrests. While 2018 statistics are not yet available, the number of arrests for driving under the influence did not increase substantially between 2016 and 2017—a time period that contains the first six months of marijuana legalization in the state.

The number increased by 184—from 3,056 in 2016 to 3,240 in 2017. Again, this number is made up of all arrests, not just pot-related arrests.

Drivers may have two nanograms of marijuana per milliliter of blood or five nanograms of marijuana metabolite [a metabolite is what’s left of the drug after your body begins to break it down] per milliliter of blood while they drive.

THC remains in your blood for a while after smoking. After one hit, smokers may have up to 100 nanograms per milliliter, which declines to single digits fairly soon. Levels of about 1-2 nanograms per milliliter may stay in the blood for up to 8 hours.

Senate Bill 346, sponsored by state Sen. Dallas Harris, D-Las Vegas, would have allowed holders of a valid registry card to drive with 100 nanograms of marijuana and its metabolite in their bloodstream.

It’s been amended, however, to something entirely different: authorizing the Legislature to collect demographic data of marijuana-based business owners to determine if there are any disparities or unlawful discrimination in the business.

In a study recently done in Michigan, which legalized marijuana late last year, a state committee found that setting a number for blood content could be problematic—scientific evidence indicates that increased use of cannabis creates a higher tolerance, meaning the more you consume over time, the more it takes to cause impairment.

Where can I smoke?

The issue of exactly where people can consume marijuana cropped up almost immediately after the plant’s legalization.

As of now, private property is the only place consumption is allowed—hotel rooms and public street consumption are out.

Which raises a question many have been trying to answer: In a state that relies on tourist dollars like no other, where can the tourists consume marijuana?

Consumption lounges popped back up this session, but the bill died on the first legislative deadline.

Assembly Bill 409, proposed by Assemblyman William McCurdy, D-Las Vegas, would have allowed county commissions to create a licensing process to create consumption lounges in their jurisdictions.

These lounges would have had to be 1,000 feet away from any schools, could not have been based in airports and would not be allowed to let anyone under 21 inside. Alcohol would not have been allowed at these establishments either. The state officially recommends not mixing the substances.

For now, on a state level, the waiting game has commenced and Clark County punted the issue to the state back in February.

What about the banking issue?

Because of federal regulations around marijuana—hint: It’s still illegal—banks are loath to take in money from marijuana-based industries, as federal law means they could conceivably be charged with money laundering.

This means the whole business is conducted in cash, which raised numerous concerns about the safety of the business. More cash means a higher chance of burglaries, the thought goes.

The state’s banking fix has died, leaving the issue up to the federal government.

On the state level, SB437, proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would have created “marijuana limited charter banks and credit unions,” essentially banks with limited abilities that would allow marijuana-based businesses to pay taxes and business expenses with something other than cash.

In a past Q&A with the Las Vegas Sun, Chris Giunchigliani, a member of the advisory committee for a Cannabis Compliance Board, said the state would not be able to enter the banking fight because of federal regulations.

“We could not find a way after our hearing for the state to actually get into the banking issue, whether it was a credit union or our own state bank,” she said then. “None of that is allowed.”

On a federal level, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., has co-sponsored legislation that would allow marijuana businesses in legal states to bank without fear of money laundering accusation. The issue has been backed by the Nevada delegation, including sole Republican Rep. Mark Amodei.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.