Las Vegas, Nevada tends to be thought of as a place where anything goes; or, at least, a place with a history of keeping moral sentiment separate from economic opportunism. Gambling is legal and prevalent. So is prostitution. In November of 2006 Nevada voters narrowly defeated a bill calling for the regulation and decriminalization of marijuana that would have established the nation’s first system of legal cultivation and distribution.
Given the town’s history, the possibility of impending conflict with city officials never occurred to event organizers when Nevada NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) announced their 420 celebration would be held in Sin City.
According to the Web site nevadanorml.org, the Vegas 420 Music Fest would be held at the swanky Ice House Lounge in Las Vegas and was to feature marijuana law reform speakers, over 50 musical acts and be hosted by Puck of MTV’s The Real World.
In advance of the event, a letter sent to Ice House Lounge from a group called Las Vegas Concerned Parents & Citizens (LVCPC) requested the immediate cancellation of the Vegas 420 Fest.
According to Nevada NORML, the letter advised, “If we see no indication of cancellation, legal proceedings will take place in which "a citizen watch" will be done for the next 90 days, you will be reported to the City and State for review, and the police will be alerted for any illegal happenings at your facility. For precautions, all concerned parents are keeping their children at close watch during that weekend as not to have them attend such a festival. The children will miss the music due to promotions of marijuana.”
Additionally, Nevada NORML executive director Beth Soloe, told HIGH TIMES, “The Ice House received a petition with thirty signatures as well demanding they stop the event.”
Despite the objections of the LVCPC, the event was not cancelled. However, the day before the Vegas 420 Music Fest was to take place, NORML learned the permit allowing them to hold portions of the event outdoors had been denied. Organizers then announced the entirety of the event would be moved indoors at the Ice House Lounge, believing they’d already obtained the necessary credentials.
The following day NORML founder and slated marijuana law reform speaker Keith Stroup arrived in Las Vegas. According to Mr. Stroup, “When we arrived on April 20th, and the early bands were already playing inside the Ice House, we were advised that the city inspectors had been there earlier and had advised everyone that (1) no exhibitors would be allowed; (2) no one would be permitted to sell anything; (3) advocacy literature would not be permitted to be distributed without a special license; and (4) no one would be permitted to advocate for any political position without first getting a special license from the city.”
City officials returned later that morning and reportedly informed the sponsors that a special permit would be required to continue the event indoors due to the number of bands participating in the two day event exceeding the established norm for the venue.
Mr. Stroup believes the requirement of such “special licenses” was intended to impede the group from exercising Constitutional rights of free speech and assembly based on the underlying subject matter of the event. “The requirements were content specific; if we had been advocating for safer streets or a raise in the minimum wage, I’m sure we would have had no such requirement,” Mr. Stroup said. He added, “It was absolutely based on the message that there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana by adults; they rejected that message and were determined not to permit the event to occur.”
According to Stroup, consideration was given to addressing the crowd and handing out NORML literature in defiance of the city’s warnings. However, Ice House Lounge management was reportedly informed the club could be shut down for a minimum of thirty days if city inspectors returned hours later to find the event still in progress. Soon after the Vegas 420 Music Fest was canceled.
A call to Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic and email to Ice House Lounge for comment were not immediately returned.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has not ruled out legal action against the city of Las Vegas.