Tourists who legally purchase marijuana in Las Vegas will soon finally have a legal place to consume it. In June 2022, Nevada’s Cannabis Compliance Board (NCCB) voted to approve regulations for cannabis lounges to operate in the state. The first are expected to come online before 2023.
Cannabis lounges, also known as cannabis cafes, provide users with a legal and safe place to smoke or vape, while enjoying a social experience analogous to cigar bars. The Nevada legislature legalized them in 2019 but the NCCB had to approve regulations for them before they opened.
Currently, 20 legally licensed dispensaries operate just to the north of the Las Vegas Strip. (They are banned in the tourist corridor.) These include the world’s largest dispensary at 40,000 square feet, Planet 13, and many with drive-thrus that distribute dried leaves, edibles and vaping cartridges like Taco Bell burritos.
But the overwhelming majority of tourists who buy marijuana legally in these stores eventually find themselves forced to use it illegally. Various laws prevent smoking or vaping it on the street, in hotel rooms or in cars. And even tourists who obey these laws go on to break others, since driving their unused marijuana across state lines or taking it on an airplane are both federal offenses. (Cannabis is still listed as a Schedule 1 drug according to Section 812 of Title 21 of the U.S. Code.)
“Visitors technically having nowhere they’re allowed to consume their products has been a frustrating catch-22 for years,” said Juliana Whitney, CEO of Cann Strategy, a consulting firm for Las Vegas businesses seeking to open in this new and often confusing regulatory landscape.
Ignorance is Bliss
Currently, a private residence is one of only two types of places marijuana can be used in the Las Vegas Valley. But unless tourists are staying at an Airbnb, or they know a local, they don’t have a private residence handy. The only other location currently legal for use is The Vegas Tasting Room cannabis lounge at NuWu Cannabis Marketplace, located five miles north of The Strip. (This dispensary opened the lounge in 2019, availing itself of a regulatory loophole because it sits on tribal land.)
According to Whitney, most tourists either smoke openly on the Strip or in the parking garages of their hotels.
“People don’t get in trouble for it that frequently,” she said. “Police can issue fines or arrest people for it, but you don’t hear about that too much because it’s decriminalized, so they don’t actively pursue it. Tourists often don’t realize that public consumption isn’t allowed because they figure if they can freely purchase the products in beautiful stores that consuming those products must be equally as acceptable.”
According to the NCCB, Las Vegas will eventually sport 40 lounges, following a lottery to determine which would be-licensees get approved. Twenty will be opened inside dispensaries and 20 independently. Half of the independent lounge licenses will be awarded to “social equity” applicants.
Consumption of cannabis at the new lounges will be limited to single servings of 3.5 grams of “usable cannabis,” according to the board, and unused cannabis may not be removed from the cannabis lounge.
While Whitney still finds these rules somewhat restrictive, she said: “I’m happy that at least tourists will have an option to not break the law.”
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