After Nevada’s first few days of legal recreational cannabis, both dispensaries owners and customers are enjoying the end of prohibition in the state.
“I just couldn’t believe the day has come and that’s it’s finally real,” said Nicholas Hatheway, a medical cannabis patient. “The lines are longer, and the products are probably going to run out faster, but I’m not greedy. I think everyone deserves this.”
An estimated $3 million worth of recreational cannabis was sold within the first four days. While Colorado, Oregon and Washington had much higher sales in their first days of legalization, cannabis business owners in Nevada were expecting much less.
“We had a higher demand than everybody initially thought,” said Riana Durrett, director of the Nevada Dispensary Association. “It shows this market really exists.”
Restocking depleted inventory is one of the most significant concerns facing Nevada dispensaries. In the fine print of the state’s new cannabis laws is a regulation that only allows liquor distributors the right to transport cannabis. After these distributors showed little interest in becoming cannabis distributors, state officials allowed other distribution companies the same opportunity.
Apparently, the liquor distributors had a change of heart. In response, the Independent Alcohol Distributors of Nevada decided to sue the Nevada Department of Taxation so they alone would have the right to distribute cannabis in the state. A judge ruled in favor of the alcohol distributors last month, giving these distributors the sole right to distribute cannabis, whether they take advantage of the opportunity or not.
“It is important to emphasize that nothing in the order prohibits the marijuana industry from starting — the state can simply license the alcohol distributors and let them get to work,” said Kevin Benson, a lawyer representing the Independent Alcohol Distributors of Nevada. “That is, of course, what we would like to see happen.”
Unfortunately, no licenses have been granted to any distributors at this time, and dispensaries owner are nervous about their supply. “I think they’d like to do it; they’re just not ready,” said Andrew Jolley, CEO of The Source, a dispensary company with locations in the Las Vegas area. “We hope we have sufficient supply to last a few days or weeks until the distributors are able to come online to supply us.”
According to Stephanie Klapstein, a spokesperson for the Department of Taxation, the licensing process is still moving forward. “We expect to have some distributors licensed within the next three weeks or so,” she said.
But three weeks of waiting might leave dispensaries without products to sell. To keep the initial momentum of legalization going, the state is allowing dispensaries to use inventory designated for medical cannabis patients for recreational customers.
“It’s already affected business, not being able to re-stock,” said Jeff Grossman, owner of The Dispensary in Reno. “This is the game we play, but at least they let us play.”
Nevada joins Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska as the fifth state that has legalized recreational cannabis. Adults 21 and over can now purchase cannabis at dispensaries in Nevada, whether they are state residents or not.
Nevada’s largest industry is tourism, and business owners are wondering how legal cannabis will exist within that industry. Scot Rutledge, an activist who worked on the campaign to legalize cannabis last fall, believes private cannabis clubs could be a reality in certain parts of the state.
“In Las Vegas, you have strip clubs, so you’ll have consumption clubs,” he said. “It’s not the exact same thing, but it’s a similar model.”
Dispensary owners noticed a large amount of customers from other states within the first few days of sales, which may be a sign that Nevada may be a destination for cannabis tourism.
Despite the passage of 15 years since the state passed its medical cannabis law, Nevada finally has two dispensaries — Silver State Relief in Reno and Euphoria Wellness in Las Vegas — to serve patients.
However, Nevada offers something that many other states don’t: Up to 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis to patients visiting from out-of-state.
Those with a valid medical card, a government-issued ID, and who sign an affidavit affirming they are legally permitted to possess and consume medical cannabis in their home state. Based on Las Vegas’ huge tourism business (more than 41 million people visited Sin City in 2014 alone), it makes sense that the state would welcome medical patients from outside its borders.
Unfortunately, doing so puts the state under more scrutiny with the federal government. One of the primary roles of the feds is to govern interstate commerce, including illegal activities that cross state borders. If the DEA suspects that cannabis is finding its way across the border, raids and federal interference may result.
In Arizona, for example, patients from out-of-state are able to possess medical cannabis, but are not permitted to purchase it at any of the state’s dispensaries.
Nevada Senator Tick Segerblom sponsored the medical legalization bill. He said the state is the “gold standard” of medical cannabis programs and that the reaction from the public has been positive so far. It’s an effort to look at the glass half full after a ridiculously long 15-year wait by the state’s patients. Segerblom gave the media a quote not often heard out of the mouth of a politician:
“Let’s regulate it, let’s tax it. We’re known as the place you go to do things that you can’t do elsewhere, so why not smoke a little pot, too?”
Some Hotels, No Casinos
Those looking to the future with an eye to purchasing their medical cannabis at a casino dispensary, however, may be disappointed. Nevada’s Gaming Control Board in May 2014 alerted licensees that they probably won’t be getting their medical cannabis from a casino anytime soon.
“Unless the federal law is changed, the Board does not believe investment or any other involvement in a medical marijuana facility or establishment by a person who has received a gaming approval or has applied for a gaming approval is consistent with the effective regulation of gaming.”
Many tourists may have to engage in a bit of stealth to consume medical cannabis in their hotel, however. Smoking cannabis in public is illegal in Nevada — even for patients. But Sergeant Chuck Callaway, director of intergovernmental services for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, suggests that patients should consider using vaporizers in public, as long as no marijuana odor is emitted.
Many businesses in the hospitality sector prohibit the consumption of cannabis on their grounds. According to the Las Vegas police, the most appropriate place for patients to consume their medicine is in hotels that allow it. Some hotels have begun allowing their guests to consume cannabis on the terrace of their room, as long as the odor doesn’t disturb other guests. Casinos, however, will be off limits — unless a casino specifically allows it — in which case the cops will butt out.
Until “smoking clubs” and other venues for vaping or smoking emerge, patients will run the risk of being booted from their hotel when they try to relax with their medicine in the comfort of their room.
DUI: Take a Cab
Unfortunately, Nevada has a zero-tolerance policy in terms of the presence of cannabis metabolites in a driver’s blood. Patients who consume are advised to take a cab or a limo to avoid being convicted of DUI in the state.
While it’s nice to see Nevada finally provide safe access to cannabis medicine to both its citizens and tourists, patients should be careful to avoid getting kicked out of their hotel, arrested for DUI, or consuming in public when on vacation. However, sick patients who need their medicine when on vacation, and maybe some slots or blackjack while they’re at it, are in business.
If Nevada legalizes recreational cannabis next year (it’s a ballot issue for November 2016), issues like where cannabis users can consume the herb will become a more heated topic.