At long last, Las Vegas' highly-anticipated public cannabis consumption lounges should be ready to open for business this summer.
Nearly four whole years after voting to legalize pot lounges, the Las Vegas City Council has finally approved regulations that will allow them to actually open their doors. These regulations will resolve a problem that has stymied the city's potential as a leading pot tourism destination. Nevada legalized adult-use weed way back in 2017, but the state continues to bar people from smoking weed outdoors, and most hotels and rental properties ban indoor use too.
The new regulations will finally give tourists and locals a legal place to smoke weed together. Weed lounges will be restricted to adults aged 21 or older, of course, and all alcohol sales will be prohibited. Outdoor cannabis use will remain prohibited, even in the case of edibles and vapes. The regulations will also prohibit lounges from opening up within 300 feet of a church, park, rec center, or family care facility.
Industry insiders initially envisioned launching several of these new establishments in the city's popular Arts District, creating an Amsterdam-inspired neighborhood packed with weed cafes, restaurants, and bars. But another controversial regulation has crushed that dream. The council has imposed a 1,000 foot buffer zone between any two pot lounges, effectively preventing multiple lounges from opening in the same neighborhood.
Around 40 prospective business owners showed up to argue their case before the council last month. “It would’ve been a very small risk for the city and now it’s a big risk for licensees and for property owners who had this opportunity of a 'New Amsterdam,'” said cannabis lounge advocate Paul Murad to KTNV13. “It could have been a new tourist destination that could’ve had millions of people coming here to Las Vegas and instead, we’re making it more challenging."
Despite the ardent opposition, the council voted to keep the buffer zone in place. Council members did agree to offer case-by-case waivers for businesses that want to cluster together, but advocates argued that regulators are more likely to grant them to wealthy business owners than to minority-owned businesses.
“The thousand foot thing can be waived, but waivers are usually given in the favor of those who have money or influence," said Chandler Cooks, a social-equity provisional license holder, according to KTNV13. “As a social equity applicant, I don’t have much money and I truly don’t have much influence.”
Industry insiders also argued against the city's high licensing fees, but the council chose to keep most of these in place as well. Independent and retail lounge owners will need to cough up $10,000 for their initial license, and will need to re-up their licensing fees on a semi-annual basis. The renewal fees are limited to a maximum of 3% of each businesses' gross revenue, though. The council also agreed to lower the license fee for social equity businesses to $1,500, down from $2,500 in the initial proposal.
Now that the rules are finally in place, the city should be ready to start issuing cannabis lounge licenses by this June. And despite the high fees, 20 businesses have already submitted applications for prospective lounges. If all goes well, the city's very first cannabis consumption lounges could finally open this summer.
Actually smoking legal weed at a casino will remain a pipe dream, though. Nevada law blocks patrons from smoking weed inside a casino, and Las Vegas' new rules prohibit businesses from opening consumption lounges in the city's casino, resort, or medical districts. The new regulations will also prohibit business owners from opening pot lounges within 1,500 feet of any business that has at least 16 slot machines.