A local politician was the very first recreational weed customer in Nevada. To shouts of “Freedom,” his eyes glassy with joyful tears, State Senator Tick Segerblom bought cannabis legally at Reef Las Vegas dispensary on July 1 before addressing the media. As Nevada’s most popular, decades-long legalization advocate, there is even a local medical strain, called “Segerblom Haze,” named after him.
He told the roaring crowd, “This is the entertainment capital of the world. It is a perfect complement to what we do. We are going to be like Amsterdam on steroids.” Recreational sales went live on July 1, and as is always the case in Las Vegas, midnight started the party. Dressed in “Day 1” hats, Reef budtenders served their very first customers, approximately 500 people baying for a chance to buy weed.
The joyful event had fireworks from rooftops, thumping music, and food trucks feeding crowds chocolate cookies and fried chicken. From the strip came party buses, rideshares, and even spotlight-twirling cabs. As Independence Day arrived, queues were snaking out of waiting rooms, buildings, and even spilling into parking lots. Despite the 110-degree heat, people were not leaving without pot.
To prevent them dying in line, some shops set up water misters, fans, and shade tents, so that customers would not feint in the heat. By the time businesses closed on July 4, dispensaries across Nevada had made $3 million in pot sales, with about $500,000 in taxes for the state. At that rate, the Nevada Dispensary Association reckons that the state could make about $30 million in weed sale taxes over the next six months.
According to Nevada officials, the more than 42 million tourists visiting Las Vegas each year will account for approximately 63 percent of all pot sold recreationally in the state. Even when people needed medical marijuana cards to buy weed, The Grove, an outlet located near The Strip and the airport, noted that out-of-towners constituted at least 80 percent of all sales.
Now, with recreational sales in effect, owner Dimitri Kouretas experts tourists to make up even more of his customers. He said, “Vegas already have its sins, your liquor, your gaming. Now we can add legalized cannabis to the equation. We are the most regulated state in the country, so we understand how to run these types of businesses, and we will do it well.”
Shawn Shaemaker, a casino limousine driver, was off-duty and just one of many waiting at Outside of Pisos, which is a recreational dispensary near me. He said that clients are always asking him when they can buy marijuana legally and how. “I have already driven people with medical marijuana cards to dispensaries, so I know it will be big,” he imparted.
He also said, “There is no reason they should not consume marijuana here of all places. They allow people to drink. Hopefully it cuts down on that, because that cannot be any worse.” The status of Sin City as a global holiday destination could also have a big influence on future efforts at legalization. This is the opinion of Scott Rutledge, who managed the 2016 ballot campaign that legalized the use and possession of up to an ounce of bud or a one-eighth ounce of concentrate.
According to Rutledge, “A lot of these people have been coming to Vegas for years for conventions or conferences, and now they have a chance to purchase legal cannabis. It might not be the reason they come here, but it is one of the things they will be able to do, and I think that will help change people’s hearts and minds about cannabis.”
Although voters in Nevada legalized medical marijuana back in 2000, it took state legislature 13 years to pass laws permitting dispensaries. Of all 66 medical cannabis dispensaries operating in the state, 44 applied for recreational licenses and received them. To prepare for a much bigger customer base, many stores now stock enough inventory to supply two months of legal sales.
However, if the first weekend of sales was any indication, demand may be too high for supply. It certainly exceeded all expectations. “One place I talked to was selling $5,000 worth an hour,” said Segerblom. “At that rate, they are going to burn through whatever they have in a couple weeks.” He was right. Nevada ran out of weed soon after and declared a state of emergency over it.
Because of language in the ballot question that voters approved, alcohol distributors are the only ones licensed to transport marijuana between cultivation and retail facilities. This is to ensure that nobody can evade taxes. Now, weed companies growing and selling in the same building must contract a third party to move product from one end of the store to the other.
Currently, marijuana companies are fighting alcohol companies in court to revoke this law, but as it is now, the system will only complicate efforts for dispensaries to restock their inventories. In a twist of irony, the area most hostile to legalization in Las Vegas is the very one famously known for its tourists, parties, and over consumption of everything.
Resorts all along The Strip donated millions to anti-legalization campaigns in the lead up to the election last year. Even the Nevada Gaming Commission issued several warnings to casinos, cautioning them not to allow cannabis use on their premises, as doing so would violate federal law and risk their gambling licenses. All resort-casinos ban the use of pot, but there are no regulations permitting consumption inside any businesses anyway.
That means that tourists who buy pot legally in Las Vegas have nowhere to consume it. If caught using it in any public area, such as on the sidewalk, they could face a $600 fine. “We have to figure that out,” Segerblom insisted. “It is what millennials want, and that is who we are trying to attract.” Now, there is even talk of a “marijuana lounge bill.”
In the last legislative session, Segerblom, a Democrat serving his second term in the senate, sponsored a bill that would have allowed county and city governments to issue business and events with smoking permits for marijuana. However, it lacked the support to pass. Despite this, Segerblom remains hopeful that it will pass in the very near future.
He imagines cannabis nightclubs next to casinos, coffee shops attached to dispensaries, and smoking licenses for hotels, parks, and concert venues. He even envisions a street dedicated exclusively to marijuana businesses, and backed up his ideas by saying, “One thing about Vegas: If there is a demand, we will figure out how to do it.”