The first cannabis consumption lounges in Nevada will be opening—eventually.
Since the state’s first recreational marijuana dispensaries opened in the summer of 2017, many tourists and some renters have discovered that while they can purchase cannabis, they have nowhere to legally consume it. Marijuana can only be legally consumed on private property in Nevada.
Attempts were made in the Nevada legislature in 2017 and 2019, and at the local level, to remedy this, but failed.
During the 2021 session of the Nevada Legislature, the problem was addressed with the passage and signing into law of Assembly Bill 341. It will allow for two types of cannabis lounges. The first type will be cannabis lounges attached to existing dispensaries. The other will be independent consumption lounges not affiliated with a dispensary.
Companies that own dispensaries will only be allowed to have one lounge, regardless of how many dispensary locations they have.
Alcohol will not be served in any consumption lounge, and pot lounges will not be allowed in casinos.
The new law goes into effect on Oct. 1. In the meantime, the Cannabis Compliance Board and local jurisdictions are meeting with stakeholders and working to create regulations. The application window for licenses may not open until early next year, meaning cannabis lounges could be open for business sometime mid-year in 2022.
Ed Alexander, owner of SoL Cannabis in New Washoe City, is looking forward to the day he can have a consumption lounge at his dispensary but says there are a lot of details to be worked out first. He thinks that’s a good thing. Alexander said rushing to make cannabis lounges operational could lead to unintended consequences.
“Right now, since the Cannabis Compliance Board and none of the local jurisdictions have crafted any of the regulations that relate to consumption lounges, we have no idea what it looks like,” he said. “The passage of AB 341 empowered the Cannabis Compliance Board and local jurisdictions to begin their process. … I’m not sure if you remember when recreational or adult-use cannabis was passed … it took the local jurisdictions about seven or eight months.”
Alexander said he thinks it’ll be a year or so until a lounge becomes feasible.
“We were very involved in the initial creation of medical and recreational language and had some input on [AB] 341—and it’s a beautiful first step, but there are many, many, many things that need to be addressed.”
Still, he said, he’s excited for it because he believes it’s necessary and has [believed such] since recreational marijuana was first legalized in the state.
“Our facility is purpose-built with the evolution of this industry in mind,” Alexander said. “I’ve got an outdoor music venue. I’ve got a 2,500-square-foot outdoor deck. We are definitely a destination-based dispensary. I’ve seen consumption coming since the inception of regulated cannabis.”
As the stigma associated with cannabis dissipates, Alexander thinks so too will the issues with consumption. He said protections for lounges will need to be solidified, though. He said the industry will need similar dram shop protections that bars and casinos in Nevada have, which protect them from being sued by someone if they’re injured as a result of having been served too much alcohol.
“We need to make sure we protect the industry and come up with sensible ways to make sure subjects like inebriated driving are addressed because, unlike alcohol, cannabis stays in your system—and while you may not be impaired, you may be legally deemed as impaired,” Alexander said. “We need to make sure that as we put new opportunities in place we also put new protections in place both for the consumers, the industry and the general public.”
Alexander thinks a big question to be answered is how impairment will be determined if a person is pulled over after consuming pot.
“We just need to make sure that there’s appropriate, accurate means of measuring impairment when somebody is driving because, you know, we’ve got half of the country that’s on at least one pharmaceutical, but I’ve never been asked what kind of pharmaceuticals I’m on when I get pulled over,” he said.
He’s also concerned about irresponsible behavior on the part of consumers and upon whom the blame for it will fall.
“I’m thinking of the bachelorette or bachelor party in Vegas that starts with three-foot-tall margaritas and ends with a dab bar,” he said. “You know, that’s a recipe for ugliness—and I’ll guarantee you it’s not going to fall back on the liquor industry. It’s going to fall back on the cannabis industry’s lap. We just have to be mindful.”
Alexander said he thinks this will be less of a problem in northern Nevada because the region attracts tourists for more diverse reasons like outdoor activities and arts festivals.
Federal law, which has not been enforced for years but still technically prohibits cannabis, may be set to change soon too.
Clarence Thomas—one of the most conservative justices on the Supreme Court—said Monday that the mashup of unenforced federal policies on cannabis may no longer be reasonable.
“A prohibition on interstate use or cultivation of marijuana may no longer be necessary or proper to support the federal government’s piecemeal approach,” he wrote shortly after the court declined to hear an appeal from a Colorado dispensary that was denied tax breaks afforded to other businesses.
He said the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2005 upholding federal laws making marijuana possession illegal no longer make sense.
“Federal policies of the past 16 years have greatly undermined its reasoning,” Thomas wrote. “The federal government’s current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana.”
Eighteen states allow recreational use of cannabis, and 36 states have legalized medical marijuana.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.