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Marijuana lounges in Las Vegas face hurdle: Alcohol

Viewed by some as the next logical step in Nevada’s progressive marijuana policy, Las Vegas’ proposed plan to permit cannabis consumption lounges faces at least one major hurdle: alcohol.

The draft bill sponsored by Councilman Bob Coffin would allow so-called social use venues where marijuana could be consumed to also serve adult beverages.

Coffin said he inserted alcohol use in the bill to give establishments “economic viability,” but it’s a non-starter for police officials, who have otherwise acknowledged most of their trepidation about lounges has dissolved through meetings with city staff.

“Inevitably, patrons of these establishments will get behind the wheel of a vehicle to drive home after they leave, and we have major concerns with that,” said Chuck Callaway, the director of intergovernmental services for Metropolitan Police Department.

At the city’s recommending committee meeting Monday, Callaway told a council panel that recent studies showed 22 percent of fatalities involve a driver under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana. He added that other studies indicated the impairment effects of the two depressants combined were greater than any one.

Callaway said he has requested toxicology reports for review from the 139 fatal crashes recorded in the police department’s jurisdiction last year. Coffin wants to view the data as well.

Coffin appeared open to nixing the alcohol allowance provision as a seemingly quick resolution to broaden support, but on Tuesday he said by phone that while “there can be compromise, it’s too early to say.”

“We’re making headway,” he said.

Industry opposed

Inroads over the past five years, when Coffin said work began on a plan, hasn’t included softening opposition among members of one of the state’s cornerstone industries.

Gaming and resort professionals want to be shielded from any potential disciplinary action that might be levied by the Nevada Gaming Control Board if the city legalizes marijuana lounges, underscoring that patrons leaving lounges with marijuana to enter a nearby casino could violate the Controlled Substances Act at the federal level, where marijuana is illegal.

“Proximity for us is problematic, and we would ask that you offer us some protections,” Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association, told the committee as she requested banning deliveries and keeping lounges outside the corridor of the downtown gaming district.

For marijuana stakeholders, however, the idea of social use venues answers the question of where medical marijuana patients and tourists will smoke after the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2017.

“For too long now, our tourists have been subject to uncontrolled environments such as parking garages and dark corners,” said James Lamb, vice president of the Las Vegas Medical Marijuana Association. “With these social use venues, though, must come responsibility for safety and security.”

The committee ultimately kicked the bill to the Feb. 19 meeting.

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