They lined up by the hundreds before midnight under the bright lights of the Strip. Limousines and party buses ushered tourists and locals to the Friday night revelry.
But this was no nightclub.
Fireworks and strobe lights and loud music set the scene at Reef Dispensaries, a marijuana shop a few steps behind the Fashion Show mall, where the line of customers stretched down and around the 165,000-square-foot building.
“I’m excited!” shouted Las Vegan Majanae Brown, 24, as the minutes ticked toward midnight. “I can’t wait.”
And when Friday finally turned to Saturday, Nevada officially joined Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts and Alaska as states where marijuana can be legally purchased for recreational use, along with Washington, D.C.
Less than eight months after Nevada voters passed Question 2 by 8 percentage points, dozens of stores across Southern Nevada began selling marijuana legally.
Despite the large crowds at dispensaries across the valley, police reported no issues with Saturday’s rollout of marijuana sales. Although it’s now legal for adults 21 and older to buy and possess up to an ounce of marijuana, consuming it in public remains illegal. There were no signs of use at dispensaries Saturday, and a reporter who walked the Strip on Saturday afternoon saw just one open user, who wouldn’t say who he was or whether he’d bought the drug legally.
At Euphoria Wellness, there were no party buses, fireworks or strobe lights. The only music to be heard played lightly from the cellphone of a customer near the door. But hundreds stood in a line that stretched around the strip mall building on Jones Boulevard south of Warm Springs Road.
“This is the largest I’ve ever seen,” Euphoria Wellness co-owner Larry Doyle said.
Selling and possessing marijuana is still a federal crime. But that didn’t deter people accustomed to buying the drug on the black market.
“You don’t have to hide in the corner anymore and feel bad about it,” Pam Mateo said as she walked out of Euphoria at 1:30 a.m. Saturday with her purchase.
Shango Las Vegas, a dispensary on Boulder Highway and East Twain Avenue, opened for recreational sales from midnight to 3 a.m. and then again at 7 a.m. Gabriel Arias, who helped set up the shop’s computer systems in Portland, Oregon, and Las Vegas, said 150 customers stood in line at 7 a.m.
By 5 p.m. Saturday, the line wound around the parking lot.
“This is about as much as it’s died down,” Arias said about 4:45 p.m., looking toward the crowd of about 55 people waiting to reach the business’s entrance.
For marijuana advocates, Saturday was a moment two decades in the making.
Nevadans first voted to legalize medical marijuana use in 1998. And advocates such as Scot Rutledge, who managed the 2016 campaign in support of Question 2, touted the lines at dispensaries across the valley as a sign that Las Vegas was more than ready for legal marijuana.
“It speaks to the enthusiasm about what this means,” Rutledge said. “Being able to purchase it legally for the first time, it’s a sea change from where we were 10 years ago.”
Reef’s first customer was state Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who led efforts to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, then let them sell the drug for recreational use. Segerblom strode through Reef’s front doors, past the security door and right to the sales counter. His purchase? Segerblom Haze, a strain of plant named after him.
Legalized marijuana has opponents. Scott Chipman, co-chairman of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana in Southern California, said the drug hurts its users and children and the public. He called swimming, biking, picnicking and vacationing recreation, not marijuana use.
“We have to consider what we’re telling our kids — That we think living in an altered mental state is something you to do recreate,” Chipman said. “We’re sending a horrible message, and we’re endangering people on the road and our children and teens.”
Nevada Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, called the legalization of recreational marijuana “a huge mistake all the way around.”
“For a community like Las Vegas, I don’t see how it benefits Las Vegas,” he said. “I don’t see how people sitting around smoking pot is going to encourage them to do things that typical tourists do. … The last thing we need is more impaired people here.”
As dispensaries across the valley reopened Saturday morning (local ordinances force them to close between 3 and 6 a.m.), lines again spilled out the front doors.
Around 11 a.m., as the mid late-morning sun beat down and temperatures reached triple digits, a line of more than 100 people stretched outside Reef.
Greg Fuller, 32, of Charlotte, North Carolina, was still amazed that he was about to legally buy marijuana.
“It’s just so weird,” Fuller said. “You don’t go to the store and buy weed. This is a hell of an experience.”
Not every store wanted to deal with the midnight rush. The Source Dispensary at Sahara Avenue and Rainbow Boulevard kept its normal store hours and opened at 9 a.m. Saturday.
But the store’s decision to skip a predawn opening didn’t seem to hurt it. About 150 people were waiting for the doors to open, including 73-year-old Navy veteran Hal Nelson, who said he’s smoked “almost every day” dating back to 1966.
“I really never thought I’d live to see it,” Nelson said. “I thought it would be undercover forever, and I’d just have to continue finding it the best way I could.”
But Nelson said he wasn’t there to buy Saturday. He was there to see history.
“I’m just window shopping,” he said. “I’ve still got some at home.”
Contact Colton Lochhead at email@example.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. Review-Journal writers Briana Erickson and Kimber Laux contributed to this report.
How marijuana got here
Nevada’s two-decade path toward marijuana legalization:
Nov. 3, 1998: Medical marijuana use approved by voters first time (needed two separate voter approvals)
Nov. 7, 2000: Medical marijuana use approved by voters a second time
Oct. 1, 2001: Medical marijuana use becomes legal in Nevada.
Nov. 5, 2002: First attempt to legalize recreational marijuana use and sales fails by 39-61 percent margin.
Nov. 7, 2006: Second attempt to legalize recreational marijuana use and sales fails by 44-56 percent margin.
2013: Nevada lawmakers pass laws that allow for legal sale of medical marijuana in Nevada.
July 31, 2015: Nevada’s first medical marijuana dispensary opens in Sparks
Nov. 8, 2016: Voters approve ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana use and sales by 54-46 percent margin.
Jan. 1, 2017: Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana became legal for adults 21-and-older in Nevada
July 1, 2017: Recreational marijuana becomes legal
Click here for complete coverage of marijuana issues in the Las Vegas Review-Journal