Friday, July 30, 2021 | 2 a.m.
As he walked through a warehouse that could eventually become home to one of the premier marijuana consumption lounges in Nevada, David Farris spoke of a new era for the state’s cannabis industry.
Planet 13, the largest marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas, has a chance to create a “next level” experience with its planned lounge, said Farris, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.
Planet 13, a tourist hotspot, is among a number of Las Vegas marijuana dispensaries crafting plans for consumption lounges, which the state Legislature approved earlier this year.
At Planet 13’s superstore on West Desert Inn Road, a 20,000-square-foot storage warehouse will likely be converted into a lounge, Farris said.
“We want to make something that people can travel to, something like a club concept,” Farris said. “We know the pressure is on us to build something special.”
State law previously only allowed consumption of recreational cannabis products at private residences. The only exception was a lounge on tribal land operated by the Paiute Tribe just north of downtown Las Vegas.
But that hasn’t stopped tourists and others from openly smoking marijuana throughout the Las Vegas tourist corridor.
The smell of marijuana is common along the Strip and in parking garages. A Metro Police spokesman said people are rarely arrested for marijuana use on the Strip, but the lounges could help alleviate the issue, at least partially.
It’s expected the first lounges in Nevada will open in the first six months of 2022, though no timeline has been set, according to the state’s Cannabis Compliance Board.
“There will be opportunities to have some first-in-the-nation-type lounges that other states don’t have,” said Tyler Klimas, executive director of the board, which oversees the industry in Nevada.
“In a lot of people’s minds, a lounge is just four walls with some couches,” Klimas said. “I think we’re going to see some experiential ideas. What that looks like, we’re all going to find out once those ideas and applications come before the board.”
Layke Martin Conine, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association, said there was potential for cannabis comedy clubs or dining concepts featuring marijuana-infused food.
On July 9, the compliance board sent letters to all cannabis retail store license holders to inform them of their eligibility to apply for a consumption lounge license. The application process, however, hasn’t been finalized.
“It’s going to be much more than just an application that you fill out and send in,” Klimas said. “We’re going to sit down with people to better understand their business model, and the board will have to deem you suitable to obtain a license.”
The board asked businesses to submit a letter of interest, though it isn’t required for license consideration. The board has received about a dozen responses.
Simon Nankervis, CEO of the Source, which has three dispensaries in the Las Vegas Valley, said the lounges would offer people a safe, legal place to enjoy marijuana.
“There’s always been this conflict between consumption and recreational legalization. If you’re here in Las Vegas on vacation, it’s almost impossible to legally consume right now, because you don’t have access to a private residence,” he said. “Now, there will be a safe haven.”
Nankervis said the company had plans to apply for a license for a lounge next to a new dispensary opening in the valley later this year or early next year.
In a statement, Joe Bayern, CEO of Curaleaf, said the Legislature’s approval of consumption lounges “speaks to the increased normalization and acceptance of the industry at large.”
“Curaleaf goes to great lengths to deliver the highest-quality products, brands and experiences for our customers, and this opportunity will be instrumental in helping people explore the dynamic culture of cannabis and create confidence around consumption,” he said.
The Cannabis Compliance Board is developing regulations for how lounges will operate. In the coming weeks, a number of subcommittees will meet to hammer out details.
The compliance board will decide, among other issues, what marijuana products can be consumed at the lounges and in what quantities. Alcohol will not be allowed.
Lounges won’t be allowed to be within 1,000 feet of a school, 300 feet of any “community facility” or 1,500 feet of a business with a nonrestricted gaming license.
Klimas said there likely would be guidelines to ensure lounge employees were educated about how to spot individuals who may have consumed too much.
Klimas said one of the subcommittees would focus on public safety and include a representative of Metro Police.
“As we design these regulations, it’s important that we have the right voices in the room, such as law enforcement,” Klimas said.
Another part of the new law stipulates that a certain number of lounge licensees must be of diverse communities.
“We will see new licenses granted to those who have been left out of the industry, specifically those who have been harmed by the failed war on drugs,” said Scot Rutledge, a partner at Argentum Partners, a firm hired by the Nevada Chamber of Cannabis trade group during the legislative push for the lounges.
“We expect to see much more diversity in ownership and begin to create a more equitable industry. These new licenses are a step in the right direction,” Rutledge said.
Marijuana consumption lounges are legal in a handful of other states, including California, Colorado and Michigan, but the coronavirus pandemic has limited the number of establishments that have been rolled out in those states.
In Colorado, there are only two license-holders for what are known as “retail hospitality” cannabis businesses — places where marijuana products can be consumed, according to the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division.
One, the Speakeasy Vape Lounge & Cannabis Club in Colorado Springs, is closed due to concerns related to the pandemic. When it’s open, the club offers memberships for those who want to buy and consume marijuana products on site or bring their own.
In Nevada, only cannabis products purchased at a lounge will be allowed to be consumed there.