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Clark County preparing for cannabis lounges

Clark County officials are closely monitoring the state’s efforts to regulate cannabis consumption lounges, a process that will largely inform how the county sets its own expectations for the marijuana industry’s expansion.

When they open this year in Nevada as expected, following approval in the state Legislature last summer, lounges will provide locals and tourists with places to consume marijuana. But first, the state’s Cannabis Compliance Board must finalize regulations, which local jurisdictions may then strengthen if they wish.

While county planning remains in the early stages, commissioners on Tuesday provided insight into factors they are likely to address before so-called social use venues open, raising concerns about potentially having to use county funds to pay for increases in staffing and seeking ways to hasten investigations of odor complaints.

Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said the county had hired 50 additional employees to handle extra work after legal cannabis sales began in the state in July 2017. She suggested that business licensing fees should be used to pay for additional employees that will be needed in air quality, business licensing and other departments.

“Or we’re going to have to figure out, when we look at our budget, what that looks like because it’s just more for us to do,” she said.

Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who spearheaded the initial attempt to legalize lounges as a state senator in 2017, called for the county to hold a public meeting with industry representatives as early as next month, as the county begins to determine local regulations.

While he acknowledged not wanting to get too far out in front of the state’s efforts, “I don’t want to get too far behind either because this is going to be a huge industry.”

Unanswered questions

Consumption lounges will be allowed to either be attached or directly adjacent to an existing dispensary, or to be separate, independent establishments, and they will be licensed by state and local governments.

“From my perspective, the location of these dispensaries and obviously the associated consumption lounge is something the public’s going to be very interested in,” said Commissioner Ross Miller, who asked for the discussion Tuesday.

Miller, who as an attorney had represented companies which challenged the state’s process for awarding multi-million dollar dispensary licenses, said he believed that a public hearing should be required for all approved lounges.

It is unclear how many licenses will ultimately be given out — initially, there will be 20 for independent lounges — or how many will be in the unincorporated county, officials said.

Commission Chairman Jim Gibson questioned whether the technology could keep up with state expectations to effectively control odors of marijuana, particularly outside.

“Whatever comes out of this needs to lead us all to technology that really works,” he said, adding that dispensaries, unlike cultivation facilities, have not typically had to deal with odors.

“That may mean the building is wholly inadequate to accommodate capturing and maintaining and retaining everything that is there,” he said.

Las Vegas keeping watch

While the county is beginning to address social use venue regulations, the city of Las Vegas is watching the state’s process in order to determine what it may need to update in its existing ordinance.

In May 2019, city lawmakers approved lounges within city limits, but the state Legislature barred local governments from licensing any such business for two years while the state studied the issue.

The city has already identified minor changes it must make to its ordinance and it should have a timeline for formally amending its bill following the state Cannabis Compliance Board’s adoption of final regulations, according to city spokesman Jace Radke.

Commissioner Justin Jones suggested that the county and cities in Southern Nevada should work together.

“It would be nice if we could be on the same page as much as possible with other jurisdictions so we don’t have different processes in different parts of the valley,” he said.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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