It’s been talked about for over four years in the entertainment capital of America. CBD and cannabis lounges, where patrons can smoke a joint, rip a bong, vaporize a dab, or do just about anything else you can think of with the plant, looked certain to pass back in 2017 — and then again in 2019. But after a series of setbacks and political meddling from the rival gaming industry, a new bill set for a hearing at the Nevada State Legislature on Friday could settle the score once and for all.
Assembly Bill 341 would pave the way for an unlimited number of lounges to open across the state, in countries where local governments allow cannabis businesses. That includes in Las Vegas, where 45 million tourists visited each year before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proponents of the bill say the pent-up demand for cannabis tourism will lead to a surge of new revenue and a decrease in crime as the city continues to reopen.
“We’ve had adult-use marijuana since 2017, but we haven’t given people a place to legally use it,” said Steve Yeager, a Democrat Assemblyman from Las Vegas who sponsored the bill. “They’re buying from our dispensaries and they want to consume.
“This will solve the problem of people smoking up and down the Strip.”
A Big Money-Maker
Nevada officials estimate the lounges could raise up to $25 million in new tax revenue and licensing fees in the first year, adding to the $150 million and climbing the state already rakes each year from the industry. A sizeable chunk of that money, some 60 percent, goes to Nevada’s public schools — which annually rank dead-last in the United States.
Several adult-use states, including California, Colorado and Massachusetts, have let a limited number of CBD and marijuana lounges open in major cities like San Francisco, Denver and Boston. More recently, Michigan and Alaska have also given the thumbs up for some consumption venues. They all do it for the same reason as Nevada: to get cannabis off the street and into a safe, regulated environment that helps fill state coffers.
But none of the other states’ lounges would come close to the scale that Yeager and company have planned for Sin City.
“You could open up a lounge and actually sell the product to your customers,” he said. “Or you could have product delivered from a dispensary. It gives places the option, if marijuana isn’t your main business, like if you’re a nail salon or a barber shop or a comedy club, for example.”
“A lot of things that probably wouldn’t work anywhere else could work here.”
Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
The Final Piece
To be clear, the Silver State does have one small lounge open already. The Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, playing by its own set of rules that allow it to bypass state law, has operated a small “tasting room” inside its mega-dispensary on tribal land for a couple years. There, customers can try 0.3-gram blunts of flower, take a bong rip or inhale a single dab. It’s just a sample of what’s to come, though.
Like everything else in Vegas, the lounge plan has a grandiose and glitzy side to it. Tick Segerblom, a former Nevada senator known as the state’s “Godfather of Marijuana” famously promised to make the city “Amsterdam on Steroids.” That goal has resulted in the world’s two largest dispensaries, a larger-than-life cannabis museum with a two-story glass bong, and hundreds more licensed CBD and cannabis businesses. Nevada also boasts the strictest flower testing standards anywhere the world — with required screenings for dozens of pesticides, microbials, mycotoxins and heavy metals.
But the main piece to the “Amsterdam on Steroids” pledge is giving people Vegas-style hospitality when they use the plant.
“It’s the final piece to this all,” Segerblom said. “And it’s the most important one.”
Lounges Ready to Go
Frank Hawkins opened the door to a massive second-floor room above Nevada Wellness Center, a dispensary he owns just a mile west of the Strip. A toothy grin spoke louder than anything Hawkins, a former running back for the NFL’s Raiders franchise, could say.
The Reserve’s dimly lit common room — with pub-style lights, a slew of TVs, and a mega-projector — led to narrow hallways on either side of a 2,500-square-foot common area. Through the hallways, a group of doors opened to custom rooms designed for people wanting to smoke in private.
“We need this to be upscale,” Hawkins said, “so when athletes and entertainers come, they can have their own rooms.”
Life-size stickers of cannabis folk heroes including Bob Marley, Willie Nelson, and Barack Obama fill the inside of one of the private rooms: the boardroom, as Hawkins calls it. Leather executive chairs surrounded an oval-shaped, wood grain table in the center of the room. Groups there will be able to enjoy a blunt while doing business surrounded by some of history’s most influential faces.
Down the hall, wall stickers of Bo Jackson, Al Davis, Marcus Allen, Jim Plunkett, and “The Hawk” himself shone within a glut of silver-and-black legends adorning the lounge’s Raider Room. A microphone with a matching pop filter hung from the ceiling in the Reserve’s recording studio, and another room offers open space and a couple of sets of virtual-reality goggles for a cannabis-influenced VR adventure.
Hawkins has also set aside a space for dominoes and put a shuffleboard table in the main lobby.
He’s had the lounge ready to open for two years but feels confident the coming weeks will finally give him the chance.
“Everything about this has been pure politics,” he alleged. “The casinos have spent countless dollars lobbying to stop us from opening because they don’t want us winning over their customers.”
Jumping the Gaming Hurdle
The casino industry is the single largest donor to political campaigns in Nevada and is well-known for controlling elected officials with financial contributions. In 2019, the last time a lounge bill came up for a vote, the casino lobby stepped in at the 11th hour to request the bill be kicked down the road for an additional two years before it passed.
“Communities have little or no experience with the impacts of lounges on the communities or surrounding businesses,” said Virginia Valentine, the casinos’ top lobbyist at the time.
Gaming operators have long been wary of all things cannabis, largely because of a belief that the federal status of marijuana could put their casino profits in jeopardy. But so far in 2021, Yeager said, there’s been no pushback.
“I think everyone realizes how important this is for our economy and the urgency associated with moving forward” he said. “If we can’t get it this time, we’re officially behind and losing business to other states.”
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