Updated December 19, 2023 - 3:01 pm
Tamara Smith sat with her laptop open, waiting to see if she had won the lottery.
Minutes later, the magic numbers appeared on her screen. Smith had hit the jackpot — a prospective license to operate a cannabis lounge.
“I screamed so loud, and I jumped up for joy because I was the only one in my house at that moment,” Smith said.
In October, cannabis regulators approved that license, making Smith, 48, the first Black woman in Nevada to hold an independent consumption lounge license.
The historic moment was met with applause and praise from Cannabis Compliance Board members.
“Congratulations on being a woman of color in this industry first of all, but to be the first is outstanding. So proud of you,” said board member Jerrie Merritt.
It was a moment that made Smith feel she’s doing what she’s meant to do, bringing full circle a nearly two-year journey.
‘I think it chose me, not me chose it’
In late 2021, a close friend sent Smith an article about cannabis consumption lounges in the state. After reading it, she decided to pursue a license.
“I think it chose me, not me chose it,” Smith said. “I just ran with it. It felt good. It felt right.”
After months of research and paperwork, Smith applied for a provisional lounge license using her own savings. Higher* Archy was born.
In October 2022, the state granted 20 licenses for retail cannabis consumption lounges, which are attached or adjacent to an existing dispensary. The state also issued 20 provisional licenses to “stand-alone” lounges, including Smith’s Higher* Archy.
To date, four independent consumption lounge licenses have received conditional approval, all of which are located where local jurisdictions permit consumption lounges.
Despite not having an established supply of cannabis products like those that dispensaries with lounge licenses have, Smith said she isn’t concerned about supply issues or drawing customers in.
For Smith, Higher* Archy is the chance to create an unforgettable experience.
‘You got to make it Vegas approved’
Smith is negotiating the lease for a 9,000-square-foot building on Las Vegas Boulevard, near the Fremont Street Experience. And that’s where she envisions welcoming locals and tourists alike to experience cannabis like they never have before.
Part of that experience will be cannabis, yes. But Smith said she hopes to have actors playing different roles and live performances in what she described as an upscale venue.
“This is Vegas. Why would you not do a whole experience?” Smith said. “You got to make it Vegas approved.”
Smith also said she hopes to change the theme of the venue every week, a feature she hopes will give customers a reason to keep coming back.
“It’s going to be a very surprising, amazing adventure,” she said of the lounge, which is expected to open next spring.
Diversity in the cannabis industry
Smith’s unique vision for her consumption lounge isn’t the only thing that sets her apart in the state’s cannabis industry, which is dominated by white men.
According to a demographic report released by the CCB earlier this year, just 39 percent of active cardholders registered with the state identified as female, and just 19 percent identified as Black, compared with 53 percent of respondents who dentified as white.
Diversity and inclusion in the cannabis industry is a top priority because the so-called war on drugs, which began under the Nixon administration, disproportionately affected communities of color, said Nevada Cannabis Association President Brandon Weigand.
“Now as we turn the corner and started to deregulate and legalize and create state regulated systems, it is imperative that the industry takes that into account and regulators take that into account and find pathways for participation and ownership within the industry,” he said.
And there are steps being taken to make it easier for disenfranchised voices to participate in the industry. Of the 20 prospective independent consumption lounge licenses awarded last year, half were awarded to “social equity” applicants — people negatively affected by the war on drugs. Smith was not one of those applicants, however.
‘It’s just so much more than just pot’
Smith said she hopes the lounge gives people — even those skeptical of cannabis — a memorable experience.
“So many people scrutinize the cannabis industry,” Smith said. “I want them to feel like there’s no reason to scrutinize it.”
The lounge also offers an alcohol-free experience, something Smith said she’s heard others express a desire for among Las Vegas’ world-famous bar and club scene.
Higher* Archy vows to “push the envelope a bit,” Smith said.
“You’re enjoying your cannabis and you’re enjoying the atmosphere and you’re loving the experience,” she said. “We’re going to provide that to them. It’s just so much more than just pot. Let’s do more.”