Medical pot, and inevitable legalization, naturally fit Sin City

Something new is growing at the bright green building downtown that once housed a pest control company and featured cutouts of giant roaches on its walls.

“Indoor Garden Organic Superstore,” proclaims the sign at 2 W. Charleston Blvd.

“Grow your own,” it calls to passers-by at Charleston and Main Street. “Veggies,” it adds in smaller print.

Veggies. That’s a good one.

Is the Indoor Garden Organic Superstore about to become the unofficial Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign for a downtown that one day will be home to profitable marijuana use? Will Tony Hsieh startups be partially obscured by smoke from medical marijuana fire-ups?

As someone raised in Sin City, where any idea is good as long as it makes money, I think it just might. The details remain foggy , but one thing is certain: Las Vegas is going green before your eyes, and it has nothing to do with renewable energy.

The City Council decided to hold off accepting applications for medical marijuana dispensaries and has scheduled a vote on a possible six-month moratorium on approving the pot shops. But such moves are little more than temporary stays.

The legalization of medical marijuana and the rush to create a mechanism to grow and sell pot through licensed dispensaries is moving far more rapidly than federal laws prohibiting the substance. Nevada might be keeping up with 19 other states that have approved medical marijuana, but that puts it ahead of the official federal law on pot.

All of which would sort itself out if Congress surprised us and showed leadership on the issue. More likely, the will of a majority of the people will continue to be carried out in painful fits and starts as law enforcement bosses such as Sheriff Doug Gillespie are given the unenviable task of enforcing laws on the books.

“We do our best to articulate our concerns, but ultimately when laws are passed we enforce laws,” Gillespie says. “So when legislation comes down, as tough as it may be for some people in my profession to accept that, it’s the law. So you enforce it. You live by the laws. We don’t make the laws.”

State Sen. Richard “Tick” Segerblom, however, does help make the laws. He has been a driving force behind medical marijuana legalization and the enabling legislation to allow pot growing and dispensing.

He thinks medical marijuana dispensaries will be a huge hit with locals and especially with tourists, whose cards will be accepted wherever legal Nevada pot is sold.

“Medical marijuana tourism is already starting in Colorado,” Segerblom says, adding that compared with alcohol consumption pot smoking “doesn’t increase violence. It’s a perfect fit for Nevada.”

He also believes medical marijuana marketing would be a boon to business downtown.

City Councilman Bob Beers isn’t as confident. He says Summerlin residents, for example, might come downtown for a concert, but probably would use the closest dispensary to their homes. He thinks medical pot’s downtown potential might be overblown.

“Clustering is only attractive if you can’t get it anywhere else,” Beers says.

Although Segerblom believes legalization will be a great boost to the state’s economy, and Gillespie warns of a variety of unintended consequences of embracing weed, it’s noteworthy that medical marijuana legalization isn’t just a dream-come-true for old hippie legislators. In a recent Review-Journal editorial board meeting, conservative Rep. Dr. Joe Heck of Nevada offered, “Do I think marijuana should remain a Schedule 1 drug? No, I don’t. I think it’s been proven there are some medicinal purposes.”

Experts can debate whether marijuana is a gateway drug, but I’m positive medical marijuana is a gateway to legalization. That surely scares a lot of folks and must confirm the suspicions of many who believe Las Vegas will find a way to extract the greatest profit from a national trend.

Like it or not, pot legalization seems like a natural in a place that extols the economic virtues of vice. That goes doubly for a downtown searching for its own identity.

This is, after all, Sin City. This is how we roll.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

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