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Las Vegas OKs marijuana lounge regulations

Updated March 1, 2023 - 6:30 pm

The yearslong vision of cannabis consumption lounges within Las Vegas came a step closer to reality Wednesday after the City Council approved regulations for the establishments.

But after a unanimous vote, questions remained about where the council will allow the businesses to open. At issue is a waivable 1,000-foot separation between lounges that could bulldoze the concept of an “Amsterdam of the West” that license holders hope for the downtown Las Vegas area.

The waiver — which provisional license-holders advocated against — allows the council discretion to approve or deny licenses.

“For those folks that might think that the 1,000-foot waiver would preclude someone from coming to this council with an interesting idea that you might want to consider, it doesn’t,” said Jim Lewis, a deputy city attorney.

Opponents said the waiver makes it difficult to find a place to rent, and the uncertainty allows for them to get stuck in long-term leases only to have their concept rejected by the city.

City staff said Seattle, San Diego and Denver have a 1,000-foot separation between consumption lounges.

“You have an opportunity in front of you to not have unnecessary barriers,” said Paul Murad, a real estate professional who has been lobbying for the prospective applicants. “Any one of you can be that progressive, paradigm-shifting person that changes that, because currently you always look at another city, another jurisdiction, but you don’t have to do that.”

New territory

Councilwoman Olivia Diaz classified the lounges as “uncharted territory.”

She said the city has heard many different opinions: “Not everyone wants the ‘little Amsterdam’ in a certain space, and we have to be respectful of spaces that already exist,” she said.

“I don’t think anyone on this council is opposed to that concept (of a marijuana district) … but where that is going to happen is still a question that we don’t even know how to answer,” she added.

Proponents said that a marijuana district — possibly within the Arts District — would allow patrons to walk from one lounge to another and would set a national example for other jurisdictions that could legalize such businesses.

Lowering fees

While the city did not budge on the distance separation, it did lower the one-time “origination charge” for the seven “social equity” applicants, who plan to open standalone locations, from $2,500 to $1,500.

Industry insiders had called for the city to significantly reduce the fees, which are separate from the semiannual licensing fees that are capped at no more than 3 percent of gross income.

The $10,000 origination fees were not reduced for the other three independent Nevada license holders or the five dispensaries that plan to open lounges attached to their retail spaces.

The city also removed a provision that would have required applicants to seek permission from neighboring businesses to allow outdoor smoking. They instead will be allowed to request a city council waiver.

After a year, applicants will return to City Hall, where conditions will be reviewed, said Seth Floyd, the city’s director of community development.

Councilman Cedric Crear said he was “not a fan right now” for outdoor consumption until that review.

Other rules include inviolate separations between schools, the Symphony Park District, the Las Vegas Medical District and the casino-hotel district. Safety and odor-control plans must be filed, background checks conducted, and the lounges must ban alcohol consumption and install surveillance systems.

Clark County, the only other area municipality that opted into allowing the lounges, already established regulations for the up to 21 lounges it could allow.

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com. Follow @rickytwrites on Twitter.

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