The Weird and Wonderful World of Las Vegas Weed Culture

The delicate balance of mixing cannabis and tourism in Las Vegas.
The Weird and Wonderful World of Las Vegas Weed Culture
Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

The party bus is a Las Vegas staple. Hop on board with a few of your pals and cruise around the Strip while taking in the sights and energy of Sin City, typically with a beverage in hand. Some buses come with a bar, others come with a stripper pole, but Herbology Tours is putting a new spin on the concept altogether by focusing on the culture and community of cannabis.

“We decided to go the education route,” says CEO Matthew Minor. “We take a person on a tour bus and give them an experience where they can relax in a fun environment. In addition to that, we give the history and background of how Las Vegas got involved with marijuana.”

The tours seat up to 15 people and include stops at some of the top dispensaries in Vegas, where guests may get a look at a kitchen or lab while doing a little shopping. One popular detour includes a visit to a glass-making facility. Guides are well-trained in discussing the medical benefits and legalities of edibles, flower, and concentrates while keeping the atmosphere light and fun. But unlike most other Vegas party bus tours, drinking is discouraged.

“It’s one of those things we frown upon,” says Minor. “Because you’re not allowed to walk into a dispensary with alcohol. At some of the dispensaries, if you’re drunk or have alcohol on your breath, they’re not going to let you in.”

The Weird and Wonderful World of Las Vegas Weed Culture
Courtesy of Herbology Tours

The tours frequently include visits to NuWu, a 16,000-square-foot marketplace on Native American territory that claims to be the largest dispensary in Las Vegas. It’s also the only one with a 24-hour drive-thru window.

“We usually team up with a budtender who will take us through the dispensary, show us the different products, different strains, and give us a 20 to 30-minute educational process as well,” says Minor.

So what about the question you’re really thinking—can you smoke on the bus?

“Here in Nevada, you’re not able to smoke on the bus. It’s illegal.”

No big deal. Just take the stash back to your hotel room, right? Well, it’s not that simple. Las Vegas has always had a complicated relationship with cannabis — with progress coming in fits and starts. Nevada was actually one of the first states to legalize marijuana for medical use back in 2000 but didn’t actually approve dispensaries to sell the stuff until 2013. Recreational marijuana was passed by voters in 2016 and went into effect the following year, but smoking in any public space, including hotel rooms and businesses, remains forbidden.

“Current law in Nevada doesn’t allow for consumption of cannabis anywhere but at a private residence,” says Scot Rutledge, a lobbyist and cannabis advocate with Argentum Partners, a Nevada-based government affairs firm. “Some local jurisdictions don’t view any place that’s open to the public at any time as private property.”

The Weird and Wonderful World of Las Vegas Weed Culture
Courtesy of Herbology Tours

Rutledge says in most cases, if someone is caught smoking cannabis in a public space, like a sidewalk or park, the person will likely be asked to simply extinguish their joint or put away their vape pen, although discretion is in the hands of law enforcement. So where does that leave the 42 million people — give or take — who visit Las Vegas every year. It’s safe to assume at least a few of them would like to enjoy some herb.

“I’m hearing about people smoking in their hotel rooms, maybe on their balcony,” says Rutledge. “But then they’re forced to pay a pretty hefty fine the hotel enforces, anywhere from $250 to $500 for an infraction. I hear of people smoking in parking garages, alleyways or around the corner out-of-sight. Of course, you can smell it anywhere.”

Both Clark County (which regulates the unincorporated Strip) and the city of Las Vegas (which governs Fremont Street and other parts of Downtown) are both weighing options to legalize public lounges or smoking parlors with approval expected within a matter of months. But even if that happens, most resorts will maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward cannabis, at least ones that have a casino on the property. Doing anything at all that would put a gaming license at risk is simply out of the question.

The Weird and Wonderful World of Las Vegas Weed Culture
Courtesy of Essence

“Because marijuana is still federally prohibited, we don’t want to see marijuana and gaming intersect right now,” says Rutledge. “That’s not good for the gaming industry and it’s not good for the marijuana industry.”

That means if lounges are approved, you won’t see consumption in any tavern that has slot machines or video poker either. It feels like a contradiction for a tourist destination that built its image and reputation on vices like gambling, drinking, strip clubs and nightclubs. Billboards can advertise “girls direct to you” for hotel guests on the Vegas Strip, but an ounce of marijuana? Forget about it.

Even the city’s own tourism bureau, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which famously marketed the “What happens here, stays here” catchphrase and took a progressive lead in releasing a beautifully produced commercial promoting Las Vegas to the LGBT community won’t even touch anything to do with marijuana. A representative simply says, “Since the approved statute limits the use of marijuana to private residences and does not allow use in public spaces or within the businesses in the resort corridor, the LVCVA has no plans to promote recreational marijuana use as a tourism attraction.”

Rutledge believes the tourism board is taking the right approach. “If we don’t provide a place for tourists to consume legally, we can’t promote it in a way we should,” he says.

That leaves business owners on their own to champion a new wave of cannabis tourism, including one that takes advantage of being in the so-called wedding capital of the world. The Cannabis Chapel allows couples to tie the knot in “weeding” ceremonies that feature pot-themed props and custom altars decorated in plastic marijuana plants. The 800-square-foot chapel is an intimate space with room for up to 20 guests indoors and a few more outdoors.

“The ceremony includes a monologue and script that is very specific to people who are not only embracing each other, but the love they share for cannabis,” says chapel director, owner, and ordained minister Drew Gennuso. “It’s a novelty-themed wedding, which is why a lot of people go to Vegas. It’s like an Elvis wedding on weed.”

There’s no smoking allowed inside the venue itself, but the chapel’s services can be hired for private homes or Airbnb rentals where cannabis use would be private. If consumption isn’t a priority, the pop-up version of the ceremony, which includes an altar, backdrop and reggae recording of “Here Comes the Bride,” can be used almost anywhere in Vegas, whether by the Bellagio fountains or in front of the couple’s favorite dispensary.

The Weird and Wonderful World of Las Vegas Weed Culture
Courtesy of Cannabition

Another business banking on current trends is Cannabition, a first-of-its-kind museum and art installation scheduled to open in early August near the tourist-driven Fremont Street Experience. The 10,500-square-foot venue will feature photogenic interactive exhibits tailor-made for sharing on social media. Guests can hug seven-foot-tall buds, pose next to a 10-foot bag of weed, pretend to smoke an oversized joint, and ride down a slide as if being “exhaled” through a pair of lips. The centerpiece is a two-story exhibit billed as the world’s largest bong. “My contract says it’s supposed to actually work,” says founder J.J. Walker with a laugh.

The Weird and Wonderful World of Las Vegas Weed Culture
Courtesy of Cannabition

A journey through all of the exhibits will take anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes and include education about cannabis from seed to consumption. “We hope guests not only leave feeling they had a good time and got some great pictures but also learned something about this beautiful industry and beautiful plant,” says Walker.

Another take on the museum concept can be found at Acres, a dispensary that dedicates a long hallway to artifacts and exhibits, including vintage High Times magazine covers, a military parachute made of hemp, and an aromatic terpene station.

“It’s one of my favorite places,” says Matthew Minor of Herbology Tours. “You get to educate people on the marijuana experience in different cultures over the years.” The dispensary also sets itself apart with The Underground, an on-property flea market that invites third-party vendors to showcase discounted cannabis products on weekends.

Acres and a growing number of other dispensaries are a quick walk or Uber ride from the Strip, but there’s only one that can claim to have an address actually on it. Essence has one of its three locations on Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue, an intersection that anchors the far north end of the Strip.

“It’s a marquee location,” says CEO Armen Yemenidjian. “About 85 percent of our sales are tourist transactions.”

The Weird and Wonderful World of Las Vegas Weed Culture
Courtesy of Cannabition

Essence is close to the Stratosphere tower, SLS, Circus Circus and perhaps most important of all, the Las Vegas Convention Center. Yet Yemenidjian says there’s still a surprisingly high amount of visitors who don’t even know that recreational marijuana is now legal in Las Vegas.

“The gaming industry pays a (hotel) room tax that goes to the LVCVA, who executes on campaigns like the commercials you see about Las Vegas,” he says. “It’s going to take a little bit of time for the cannabis industry to catch up to that, but there’s a tremendous opportunity to increase tourism to Las Vegas with cannabis.”

Yemenidjian acknowledges that Essence will look to expand business with a lounge of its own when the law allows it. For now, it’s a waiting game as the cannabis and tourism industries feel the growing pains of merging together — and the newest economic driver in Las Vegas comes to terms with the biggest one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts
Read More

Damian Marley Feeds You the Medicine of Music

The four time Grammy Award-winning artist discusses plans for new music, his Welcome To Jamrock Reggae Cruise, and how smoking cannabis is part of his day-to-day regimen.