WEST WENDOVER, Nevada — The Nevada State Legislature is considering a series of bills on recreational marijuana use, which could make it easier for people to legally consume the product.
The bills, making their way through the final week of the legislative session, could have an impact on the border towns closest to Utah that are already experiencing "pot tourism."
"As a state that relies heavily on tourism, as a community that relies heavily on tourism, we’re going to see those cannabis tourists. We already do see those cannabis tourists," West Wendover Mayor Daniel Corona said in an interview with FOX 13 on Wednesday.
Mayor Corona said he is supportive of Assembly Bill 341, which would create special "cannabis lounges" where people can go and legally consume. The bill is designed to solve a problem that was created when voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2016. When someone purchases marijuana in Nevada, it's only for consumption in a private residence — not in hotels, not in casinos, and not in public.
So the idea of a "cannabis lounge" is being proposed. It would be a place where a visitor could go and consume the product.
"Now is the right time to make sure lounges are created, set up, licensed in a way that is safe and highly regulated just like the rest of the industry," said Layke Martin, the executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association, an industry group of cannabis dispensaries.
The idea of cannabis lounges has been considered before in the legislature. But it is being pushed with more urgency this year as tourists flock to Las Vegas as restrictions ease coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Presently, there is no place for any visitor to legally consume marijuana product.
"I’m not in favor of it," Mesquite Mayor Al Litman told FOX 13. "I know we get a lot of customers from out of state, primarily Utah, that come down."
Mayor Litman said he believed there would be too many public safety problems associated with cannabis lounges.
"It’s bad enough you’ve got people leaving casinos and bars at late hours and they’re inebriated and police have to deal with that situation," he said. "It would be doubly-worse if they would go first to a lounge and go to the bar. It’d be a disaster for the community."
While Mayor Litman said he would not support a cannabis lounge in his community, West Wendover's mayor said he would.
"For me, it would be irresponsible not to allow at least one cannabis lounge," Mayor Corona said. "But we have to find a way to responsibly regulate that. Whether that means folks are not to drive to the cannabis lounge or they have to provide some sort of transportation for those folks. But I think there is a way to do that and do so responsibly."
Under the proposed legislation, communities would still have the ability to say no to a cannabis lounge, just like they could with dispensaries. Both border communities have a single dispensary that has brought in additional visitors, and additional revenue (for example, West Wendover received about $1 million from the dispensary and its marijuana sales last year).
The legislature is also considering Assembly Bill 322, which would allow some events to have designated cannabis areas.
"An outdoor concert that is limited to individuals 21 and over could have a designated space set aside where individuals could consume cannabis products and vendors could sell them, similar to an alcohol distributor at a concert," said Martin.
Both mayors Corona and Litman had some concerns about that bill and regulating the areas. But they both supported another bill that has passed the legislature and is headed to Governor Steve Sisolak's desk that allows for curbside pickup of cannabis products ordered through a dispensary. Martin said it came out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There can be no one under 21 in the car, you have to be in a car, you typically order online in advance and it must be in the sightline of security," said Martin.
In Utah, medical cannabis pharmacies are allowed to do drive-thru service.
The clock is ticking on the bills. The Nevada State Legislature is scheduled to adjourn next week. The cannabis lounge bill just passed out of the Assembly's Ways & Means Committee. The Nevada Dispensary Association was pushing to get the bills passed through the entire legislature.
"Now that tourists are coming back, we’re going to see hopefully additional revenue, additional tax dollars in our state," Martin said.