For a couple of decades, tourists in Las Vegas have dealt with a cannabis conundrum: All over the glittering town, there are shops selling marijuana — and nowhere to smoke .
The Las Vegas City Council this month voted to permit existing dispensaries to apply for licenses to open eating lounges where tourists may utilize marijuana products in a cozy setting, perhaps with a meal and some live entertainment.
While the whiff of legal marijuana smoke floating around Las Vegas has entrepreneurs optimistic about the business’s future, it’s the gaming sector wondering and worrying about this query: Will Las Vegas become the next Amsterdam?
A legal path to pot lounges in Las Vegas marks a success for cannabis investors wishing to capitalize on a unique brand of marijuana tourism using a Sin City spin. But this new genre reflects a potential threat to gambling firms worried the recreational weed trade could siphon tourists — and their money — from a casino corridor struggling to increase profits.
Considered Nevada’s bud ambassador, Clark County Commissioner and former state senator Tick Segerblom is putting his money on Las Vegas becoming the next sacred land of marijuana tourism.
“We’re the newest Amsterdam,” he explained.
That ought to be an issue to gambling businesses, Segerblom advised the USA TODAY Network.
“They are concerned about (lounges) earning money outside the hotels,” Segerblom said. “They’re worried the more this goes outside resorts, the more established they will get. As a business person, I would be concerned too.”
A nervous gambling industry — and a cannabis industry waiting to pounce
As president of the National Resort Association, Virginia Valentine’s task is to guard the interests of the lobbying group’s fundamental clientele: gambling businesses.
Lately, she has been the shield between casinos and cannabis.
“As long as it’s federally illegal, we can’t get it on the property,” Valentine told the USA TODAY Network. “We are attempting to create that separation.”
Because the federal government admits cannabis as an illegal substance, gaming giants remain reluctant to join hands with the weed market.
On May 1, less than a month after a bill to legalize weed lounges in Nevada expired in the state Legislature, Valentine advocated the Las Vegas City Council to halt the push for pot lounges to allow state legislators to plot a forward route.
“We can not wait for the state to cooperate,” said Councilman Bob Coffin, the city bill’s sponsor.
Valentine asked to get a 1,500-foot buffer between gaming establishments and cannabis lounges, and also the city jeopardized at 1,000 feet. The city passed the ordinance, 4-1, making Las Vegas the first city in the country to legalize “social usage places.”
After the town builds a program, 20 dispensaries — already open or forthcoming in Las Vegas this season — can apply for permits to open lounges prohibited from purchasing alcohol.
“What they are really trying to aim for are the tourists coming to Las Vegas.”
The cannabis industry, he said, is following the most important ingredient in the Vegas profit recipe.
“What they are really trying to target would be the tourists coming to Las Vegas,” Anthony told the USA TODAY Network. “That is where the money is. That’s always where it’s been. These ingestion lounges are the first effort to assemble from the tourists that want to smoke bud here in Nevada.”
If Las Vegas is an amusement park, cannabis is the latest ride, however gaming operators aren’t ready to get a ticket and buckle up.
“It’s a fascinating chapter that will be interesting to check whether (bud lounges are) something that attracts people — and, of course, there are worries it will draw people away from the hotels.”
Ask John Mueller, CEO of Las Vegas-based Acres Cannabis, whether the city will become the new Amsterdam, and it becomes apparent he has a different goal in mind: Helping Sin City overshadow the charming European city of vice and cannabis-friendly coffeehouses.
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