Nevada could become first state to have marijuana lounges

There are hookah lounges and cigar lounges. But now Nevada wants to propose something else: Pot lounges.

Three months after recreational marijuana became legal in Nevada, state leaders are now trying to figure out how pot users could light up in public – without breaking the law.

The current law allows people to possess pot, but severely limits where they could use it. Currently, anyone caught using in public could face a $600 fine. While places like Las Vegas allows alcohol consumption in public, marijuana is forbidden in the casinos and even hotel rooms.

“The big issue is where to possess and consume cannabis products that are now legal to purchase…they can’t technically possess or consume them on the strip or in gaming properties or in their hotel room, for example,” said Andrew Jolley, CEO of The Source dispensaries and president of the Nevada Dispensary Association.

In a meeting Tuesday, Clark County commissioners discussed pot lounges but then postponed the issue until December.

Those hoping to change the law gained momentum after an opinion was handed down by the state Legislative Counsel Bureau on September 10 that said no state law stops local governments from having public consumption of marijuana in businesses.

But local leaders are proceeding with caution.

Democratic State Sen. Tick Segerblom introduced a bill in that would have given local governments the authority to allow businesses like cafes, yoga studios and lounges to light up. But the proposal, which was not supported by Gov. Brian Sandoval, eventually died in the state legislature.

“Well, I think of it as more [Sandoval] is concerned it’s going to bring publicity to our industry, which in turn might bring the feds in. We’ve always been huge on a national level for experimenting with things like this,” said Segerblom.

Sandoval has been an outspoken critic of the measure, and is against local governments taking up the issue.

“I am concerned with these establishments popping up piecemeal throughout the state with differing rules and regulatory structures,” he said.

The Clark County Commission now wants to wait for the City of Denver to approve its own pot lounge measure before it agrees on regulations and licensing for local Nevadans.

"I don't know if we need to be first or not, I don't see any reason why we have to be the first, but we certainly have to be right," Clark County commissioner James Gibson said at the meeting Tuesday night.

Adults have been able to possess no more than an ounce of marijuana legally since July 1 following the approval of a ballot initiative that was passed in the state in November. Nevada was the fourth state in the country to approve recreational marijuana.

Jolley thinks it’s an inevitable progression of the law. But, he said, it has to be crafted carefully.

“This is uncharted territory, no one’s done it before. Colorado tried and hasn’t really been successful,” Jolley said, “So this is a thorny issue, no one’s naïve to the fact. So we have to do it right.”