Consumption lounges and other public spaces. We might have forgotten what it feels like to get together, but cannabis advocates haven’t. Two new bills have been introduced to the Nevada Assembly that would legalize social consumption in public places.
Assembly Bill 341, introduced by Rep. Steve Yeager, would legalize (and regulate) cannabis consumption lounges. Additionally, AB322 would allow for the sale and consumption of cannabis at live events. This one has three primary sponsors and five co-sponsors, so it seems to be popular.
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom would like to see even more permissive public consumption laws. “I think we’re ready to really blow the doors off this thing,” Segerblom says. “If we do soon, we can be the marijuana capital of the world.”
Legal consumption lounges could also help curb the flood of tourists smoking outdoors on the Strip and on Fremont Street. Since they can’t smoke in hotels, they have no choice but to smoke outside. “I get complaints all the time … about marijuana smoke on the Strip,” says Segerblom, whose district contains that resort corridor. “The truth is, the hotels really force it, because they prohibited lounges in the last session.”
Segerblom says he would like to see the county create outdoor spaces on the Strip where tourists could consume cannabis.
DUI Laws. Unlike with alcohol, there’s no technology to detect marijuana impairment. So law enforcement has been working with an ad hoc solution: Whether or not they’re impaired, a driver whose blood tests positive for marijuana will be convicted of a DUI. The problem is that marijuana can remain in the blood for longer than it affects the brain.
Nevada Judiciary Committee Chair Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) presented a solution on March 29 with Nevada Assembly Bill 400. This legislation would remove the prohibition against having marijuana (or marijuana metabolites) in a driver’s blood.
You still have to drive sober, of course. Law enforcement would determine impairment via old-school means, such as driving behavior and field sobriety tests. “Nothing in this bill would prevent prosecutors from charging and securing convictions against drivers who are actually impaired by cannabis,” Yeager says, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
New conveniences. During the pandemic, the state of Nevada allowed for curbside cannabis pickup as a safety measure. “It’s become a really popular feature with both dispensaries and, especially, the customers,” Nevada Dispensary Association executive director Layke Martin told the Las Vegas Sun. Expect this convenience to become permanent, thanks to Nevada bill SB168. Additionally, Clark County greenlit drive-thru windows at dispensaries. And the City of Las Vegas is considering following the County’s lead.
Tax dollars. It might seem like all those cannabis tax dollars are going up in smoke, but they’re actually helping our community. In Clark County, the first $12 million in cannabis taxes annually goes to homeless programs. Some money goes to Nevada’s Cannabis Compliance Board (CCB), along with enforcement in local jurisdictions, then the rest goes to Nevada’s K-12 education.
“For fiscal year 2020, the cannabis industry brought in $105 million in excise tax revenue,” says Nevada Dispensary Association’s Martin. “That was up $6 million from the year prior.”
Cannabis lobbyist Scot Rutledge says the industry would like to see sales taxes removed from medical cannabis, just as other medicines are not taxed. “Otherwise, the tax structure is generally fair and equitable,” he says. “The industry wants to play a part in providing revenue to the state.”
Criminal justice. Segerblom would like to dedicate a portion of Clark County’s cannabis tax revenue to help people who have been adversely affected by marijuana laws. Segerblom says that even though Gov. Steve Sisolak issued pardons, marijuana charges were not automatically removed from criminal records. “One of the things we’re looking at is trying to get a computer program that could just go through and pull those things off people’s records,” Segerblom says.
Equity and diversity. Over the years, marijuana prohibition has mostly harmed vulnerable populations, while those with the most resources—say, investors wealthy enough to start a cash-only business—have generally benefited from legalization. The latest round of legislation works to balance the scales. Rutledge says both public consumption bills have language that includes social equity applicants in the licensing process. “We’re trying to fix the unintended consequences of how these original laws were passed,” Rutledge says.
Banking. Due to the mismatch between state and federal laws, banking has been a tricky issue for the cannabis industry in Nevada. Consumers still have to pay with cash rather than credit or debit cards, while the industry must deal with all that cash. Rutledge, a lobbyist for the Chamber of Cannabis, says the industry has been able to do some banking, albeit very carefully.
“There’s nothing in federal law that prohibits [banking],” Rutledge says. “It’s just a very expensive proposition for the banks because of the reporting requirements, etc.” Banks often apply limits to cannabis banking that they don’t apply to other industries.
It will likely take federal legislation to smooth out the issue. Nevada Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen are co-sponsors of the SAFE Banking Act, which was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate last month. That bill would go a long way toward granting the cannabis industry access to traditional banking, Martin says.
Cannabis for canines. We couldn’t resist the alliteration, but NV AB101 actually applies to all animals, not just dogs. The legislation would allow veterinarians to administer products “containing hemp or CBD which contains not more than 0.3 percent THC.”
Federal legalization. After a failed war on drugs, it seems our country is finally inching toward the end of prohibition. Eighteen states have fully legalized cannabis, according to Politico, and many others have legalized its medical use.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants countrywide reform. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well,“ he told Politico on April 3. “They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom.”
Brandon Wiegand, regional general manager for local dispensary The Source and a Nevada Dispensary Association board member, says wide-scale decriminalization is more likely than full legalization. On the other hand, Segerblom predicts President Joe Biden will legalize marijuana, and casino resorts will rush to build consumption lounges.