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Marijuana lounges in Clark County a complicated matter

Updated September 18, 2017 - 12:31 pm

Could the nation’s first legal and licensed marijuana lounge end up in Southern Nevada?

The short answer? Yes, technically.

The long answer? It’s complicated.

“There’s no rush,” Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said Friday.

The Nevada Legislature’s lawyers threw a curveball to local governments last week with a legal opinion saying nothing in the state law prohibits marijuana consumption lounges.

After months of following the guidance of the state in navigating the legalization process, local governments are poised to decide whether they want to move forward with something that no city in the nation has done — license and regulate social consumption lounges.

Not so fast

Although elected local officials have an appetite for cannabis clubs, even the most pro-pot lawmakers like Giunchigliani are pumping the brakes.

Giunchigliani said she initially opposed consumption lounges, but she’s seen the need for them since recreational marijuana sales started July 1.

Smoking in public is illegal, and all casinos have been told to ban it on their properties. Giunchigliani said tourists complain they have no place to smoke the drug they bought legally in Las Vegas.

“We’ve put people at risk of violating the law,” she said. “They’re gonna consume someplace.”

But Giunchigliani said that’s not enough reason to immediately license such lounges.

“We have to do this right,” she said.

North Las Vegas City Councilman Isaac Barron said “the time has come” for legalized pot lounges. But he said rushing blindly to open consumption lounges without due diligence “would be contrary to what we want to achieve in legalization.”

“There’s a lot of things we need to work out,” Barron said.

Moving slow in Denver

Denver is the only municipality that has legal consumption lounges on the books after voters in the city approved a ballot measure last November.

But seeing those lounges become a reality in the Mile-High City is still a ways off.

Denver started taking applications for what it calls social consumption permits last month, but officials told the local magazine Westword that it could take several months, at minimum, before those spots can open.

In Nevada, Clark County appears to be the most prepared entity to jump into the pot lounge arena, and county commissioners are poised to discuss the topic on Tuesday.

The county’s Green Ribbon Advisory Panel, which consists of marijuana, gaming and tourism industry leaders, has discussed the topic at length since March and has considered a one-year pilot program to start.

But not everyone is on board with the idea.

Tread carefully

Commissioner Susan Brager said she has too many unanswered questions about the implementation of the lounges to allow them to begin operating in Clark County.

Among other questions, Brager wanted to know who would be able to operate a lounge, where they could and could not be located, what kind of ventilation they would be required to have and where the marijuana products consumed inside them would come from.

Brager said she’d like the county to hold a town hall on the issue. Living up to its promise of being a gold standard for recreational marijuana would require input from citizens, she said.

“I think we’re moving too quickly still,” Brager said. “Once you open up the door, where does it go from there?”

Gov. Brian Sandoval also opposes pot lounges, and though local governments have all the say in whether to allow them, Sandoval’s reluctance could prompt trepidation.

Sandoval said having legal barlike locations for marijuana use could draw the ire of the U.S. Department of Justice and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who many in the marijuana industry view as one of their top opponents.

“I think that this might invite more (federal) scrutiny with regard to the sale of recreational marijuana,” Sandoval said last week.

Giunchigliani said local governments should take the governor’s comments to heart.

“I’m not so much worried about being first,” she said. “We don’t want to do anything that puts a bull’s-eye on our heads.”

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. Michael Scott Davidson contributed to this report.

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