Nevada could be first state to set up marijuana lounges

Nevada could become the first state to allow users of recreational marijuana to light up in clubs and lounges, a state legal body said this week, opening a new front in what is already a booming pot business.

The state Legislative Counsel Bureau said Monday that state law does not prohibit city or county governments from operating a lounge or facility in which patrons may use marijuana.

Cities and counties are allowed to adopt their own rules governing those businesses and decide whether they are required to obtain special permits, the bureau said.

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The ruling means tourists and visitors may soon have a place to consume marijuana in public. Pot smoking is banned under state law in Nevada's hotels and casinos.

None of the four other states where marijuana is legal for recreational use — Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon — currently allow so-called pot lounges. All four states restrict marijuana use to private residences. The three other states where legislators and regulators are finalizing rules in advance of legalized marijuana — California, Massachusetts and Maine — are not currently considering legal pot lounges.

Legalization advocates say pot lounges are a logical step, especially if states where marijuana is allowed hope to connect their pot industry to tourism.

“Allowing regulated social use areas is a good solution that recognizes cannabis consumers' rights to congregate just like alcohol drinkers can in bars while also protecting nonconsumers' rights not to inhale secondhand smoke,” said Tom Angell, the founder of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group. “It should be a no-brainer, especially in tourist towns like Las Vegas where visitors don't have private residences they can go back to to imbibe.”

The Nevada legislator who spearheaded much of the legalization movement, state Sen. Tick Segerblom (D), has said he thinks marijuana will attract new tourists to the state.

“We’re going to really market this thing around the world,” Segerblom told The Hill in a recent interview.

But legalization skeptics say the growing prevalence of marijuana stores, and lounges where those products can be consumed, increase the risk of crime associated with the nascent industry.

“The people of Nevada wanted folks not to go to jail for using marijuana,” said Kevin Sabet, who heads the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “I don’t think they envisioned pot clubs in their neighborhood.”

“Data show that areas around marijuana stores have higher crime and issues with second-hand smoke and other nuisances. I can't imagine pot clubs will be a good thing for the state,” Sabet said.

Cities will still have to pass their own ordinances governing marijuana lounges after the state legislature killed a measure that would have legalized them earlier this year. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday he is no fan of the prospect of lounges.

“I did not support them previously,” Sandoval told the paper. “I don’t support them now.”

Sandoval did not support the ballot measure legalizing marijuana last year, but he has said he will work with the federal Justice Department to allow legal marijuana now that it has passed. Sandoval and other governors of states that have legalized pot have been concerned that the Trump administration may reverse a long-standing Obama administration agreement that deemphasized prosecutions of marijuana-related businesses in their states.

“I don’t know what direction the Justice Department is going to go, but it is going to raise some legal issues,” Sandoval told The Hill in a recent interview. “I want a model system.”

Nevada became the fifth state to allow marijuana use for recreational purposes on July 1, just eight months after state voters approved a ballot measure. California, Maine and Massachusetts, where voters also passed legalization measures, will begin legal pot sales next year.