Las Vegas Sun

May 26, 2019

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Las Vegas marijuana dispensaries planning for consumption lounges

Essence Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Steve Marcus

A view of the lobby at the Essence Cannabis Dispensary, 4300 East Sunset Road in Henderson, on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. The company has three locations in the Las Vegas Valley, including one on the Las Vegas Strip.

Now that Las Vegas has approved marijuana consumption lounges, dispensary operators are expected to move quickly to take advantage.

The city is anticipating a flurry of applications, but as of Thursday, no dispensaries had applied for a permit for an on-site lounge where customers can smoke or imbibe in marijuana edibles.

The Las Vegas City Council last month approved an amendment to allow lounges to operated by existing dispensary owners. Those without a state license to sell weed would be allowed to seek permits for off-site lounges starting in 2020.

Nevada legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, but the law only allowed people to smoke at private residences. That left few options for some 42 million tourists who visit Las Vegas each year.

“The passing of the ordinance answers a huge question that everyone had, which is if all these people are coming to town, where do they consume?” said Armen Yemenidjian, CEO of Essence Cannabis Dispensaries. “This gives people more of a responsible way of using cannabis. It fills a void, and it’s what was needed.”

Yemenidjian said Essence, which has three Las Vegas Valley stores, is finalizing plans for a lounge at its dispensary on Las Vegas Boulevard, just north of Sahara Avenue. More details about the lounge will be announced this summer, he said.

“Our goal is to create a good experience for people, from the retail experience to consumption,” Yemenidjian said.

John Mueller, CEO of Acres Cannabis, said his company plans to apply for a lounge permit later this month. He said there are already plans in place for an 8,500-square-foot lounge at the Acres dispensary site on Western Avenue, near Sahara.

Mueller said the Acres lounge will have an intimate feel and feature an area that can be used for events.

“The ordinance is a great crawl-before-you-walk program,” Mueller said. “This was big news, and it was two years in the making. You know it’s big when you’re watching Fox News and you see it scroll past on the ticker.”

Acres and Essence are two of a dozen licensed dispensaries in Las Vegas — all but two are currently in operation — that are now allowed to applied for a lounge permit. Permits will require an application fee of $5,000 and an annual renewal fee in the same amount.

Other valley dispensaries, such as Planet 13, the Source and Reef, fall under the jurisdiction of Clark County, which has not approved lounges.

City of Las Vegas spokesman Jace Radke said the process for obtaining a special-use permit takes about three to four months. That means that this fall is likely the earliest the first lounge could open.

“There are internal reviews that have to be done by Planning Department staff, and often there are questions that applicants must answer,” Radke said.

As part of the application process, dispensaries must submit an air quality control plan to prevent the smell of marijuana from wafting outside. You wouldn't be able to purchase marijuana at a lounge, meaning customers would have to bring product from the adjacent dispensary. That's why current license holders are the ones initially allowed to open the lounges.

Once a dispensary is vetted by city staff, the special-use permit will come before the City Council for final approval.

The National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade organization that supports pot businesses, applauded the city’s move to allow lounges.

“It’s vitally important for the city of Las Vegas to have places outside of residences where people can consume,” said Morgan Fox, an association spokesman. “The way the laws are in Nevada, conceivably, someone living in public housing could get a ticket, even though recreational marijuana is legal.”

The Nevada Dispensary Association has been neutral on the issue of consumption lounges, Executive Director Riana Durrett said.