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Marijuana consumption lounges approved for Las Vegas

Updated September 21, 2022 - 5:17 pm

Cannabis consumption lounges are coming to the city of Las Vegas.

In a 5-1 vote, the City Council on Wednesday denied Councilwoman Victoria Seaman’s motion to opt out of allowing such businesses.

Councilman Stavros Anthony, who wasn’t at the meeting, did not vote.

By not responding to a letter from the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board earlier this month, the city automatically opted in to the licensing process, but still had an opportunity Wednesday to change course.

Unincorporated Clark County and Las Vegas will be the only jurisdictions in Southern Nevada to host the lounges, which are akin to taverns, but with no alcohol sales allowed.

The businesses will allow marijuana customers to smoke the drug legally for the first time outside of private homes since voters legalized recreational use in 2016. This left out the 40 million or so yearly tourists without a place to legally smoke, having them to resort to doing so illegally in the street, parking garages or hotel rooms, officials have stressed.

Seaman said she would have rather the City Council first see what happened with Clark County’s lounges as a “trial and error” before allowing them in the city, and wait for a second round of licensing, which would have to be determined by state lawmakers.

But additional state licensing isn’t guaranteed.

Seaman noted before the vote that she had heard from her constituents, and that “they would rather not have them in the residential areas and have them more in the tourist areas, so, I’m not going to be supporting this.”

Most of the licenses will be issued to dispensaries with lounges attached or “adjacent” to the businesses. The city currently licenses 17 dispensaries.

Statewide, there will be 20 licenses issued to independent applicants for standalone gathering spots, half of which will go to “social equity applicants,” who’ve been adversely affected by marijuana laws before the state legalized the drug.

Other cities opting out

City Attorney Bryan Scott told the council that North Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City and Mesquite had opted out.

City staffers will now need to iron out the 2019 Social Use Venue ordinance — which essentially lay the groundwork for consumption lounges in the city — to comply with state law.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the City Council will vote on the new ordinance, or what limitations it might place on the lounges.

Municipalities can strengthen, but not weaken a Nevada law that legalized the venues in 2021.

The development came a week after the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board said that its 10-day application window for the licenses was opening up in October, and as Clark County works to finalize its licensing regulations.

Tied to a location

In the state licensing process, applicants will choose what jurisdiction they intend to open their lounge in, and can’t later change the location. Then the municipality licensing process will begin.

Waiting to opt out after Nevada opened its application process would have placed the city in a “legal predicament” with applicants who’d chosen Las Vegas as the jurisdiction where they intended to open their lounge, City Manager Jorge Cervantes said.“If there is no direction today … we are already in, so it’ll be hard to get out.”

Las Vegas expects its application process to open in the first couple of months of 2023, and Commissioner Tick Segerblom noted that the first lounges in the county are projected to open up early next year.

Although Councilwoman Olivia Diaz stressed she was not “overzealous” about such businesses, she welcomed the development opportunities.

“I think it’s important for the city to consider the business opportunity that consumption lounges will bring, and also some relief of issues we’re currently hearing about a lot because we’re not offering a place for folks to actually consume when they buy,” Diaz told the Review-Journal after the vote. “We have still some way to go and some more work to do.”

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

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