Brian Sandoval may not love Donald Trump, and he may not love marijuana. But the Nevada governor is a pragmatist, and so he’s willing to embrace both—to a point.
Like all governors, Sandoval likes money (good luck running a government without it!), and he likes being in power (same). And so he’s learned to live with President Trump despite a tumultuous two years in which he repeatedly changed his allegiances.
Initially, Sandoval refused to support candidate Trump, but he eventually decided to back the Republican nominee. After Trump’s crotch-grabbing comments went public, Sandoval backpedaled before finally kowtowing to the president.
In much the same way, Sandoval has also learned to live with his state’s rapid and hearty embrace of recreational cannabis.
Nevada was the first of the four states that legalized marijuana on Election Night last year. Then, the state began commercial retail sales on July 1 of this year—a full six months before California plans to start permitting pot shops.
And Sandoval, whose government will get to spread an estimated $60 million in proceeds from recreational marijuana sales throughout the budget, has been a willing participant.
To a point.
Earlier this year, after meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions—the same Jeff Sessions who’s made no secret of his desire to shut down marijuana legalization wherever it can be found, including in Nevada—Sandoval gave the Trump Administration “an A-plus in terms of how they work with Nevada.”
Then, last week, when he was greeted with the idea that adults could someday legally smoke marijuana in a Nevada hotel or bar, Sandoval lost his mind.
He declared it a mortal risk to the state and claimed that it could somehow catalyze the federal crackdown on weed that Sessions has been hinting at all year.
One of marijuana legalization’s greatest challenges has been figuring out where adults will be allowed to consume cannabis. It’s proven to be a persistent and pervasive conundrum few governments have been able to solve.
This issue has come into full focus this summer in Las Vegas, which is both one of the most-visited locales on the globe and the epicenter of Nevada’s new retail cannabis industry.
Las Vegas is a place where earthly delights such as cocaine and sex-for-hire are more or less openly traded in broad daylight. It’s also a place where, if you’re a tourist, you can’t use the marijuana you just legally bought without fear of receiving a citation.
While it’s certainly not obeyed with much regularity, the only legal place to consume cannabis in the state of Nevada is a private residence. Public consumption of marijuana is illegal, and this puts many tourists in a difficult position.
If you’re a tourist and staying in a hotel—which, of course, you are—and if your hotel has a casino—which, of course, it does—you’re out of luck. That’s because all major hotels have adopted strict no-marijuana policies under duress from state casino regulators.
So welcoming has the gaming industry been to legal marijuana that several marijuana-related conventions are now being steered away from Las Vegas. This situation isn’t tenable, for obvious reasons.
In Denver, another city that has been grappling with these issues, coffee shops and art galleries may soon be able to obtain permits that would allow adults to use cannabis on-site.
Now, it looks as if some lawmakers in Nevada are recognizing the wisdom of creating places like these where people can consume weed.
Nevada state Senator Tick Segerbloom—who represents the Las Vegas area—recently asked for an opinion from the state Legislative Counsel on the possibility of moving toward a similar setup in Nevada.
If Segerbloom’s idea goes forward, hotels, bars and other businesses would be able to apply to local authorities for a license that would allow on-site weed smoking.
If a specific location doesn’t want to allow such a thing, fine. If they do, they’d be able to set the ground rules. This all seems reasonable enough, but apparently, it’s a bridge too far for Sandoval.
As the Reno Gazette-Journal reported, Sandoval came out staunchly against the idea. He went as far as to say that this—of all things—could be what finally sparks a crackdown led by Sessions’ Justice Department.
Here’s his reasoning. Try to follow along if you can—but be forewarned, it makes no sense.
“My concern with different localities creating different regulatory structures and being limited to their general business licensing authority is that we would jeopardize the strict regulatory structure that is required by the Cole Memo and could invite enforcement by the federal government,” Sandoval said.
The Cole Memo is the non-binding Obama-era policy paper that says the Justice Department will leave state-legal cannabis alone as long as all local laws are being followed.
How cannabis sales would not trigger a crackdown while cannabis use would be the last straw, Sandoval doesn’t exactly say.
But here’s what is clear. Sandoval receives significant monetary support from the casino industry. And as we said above, nobody appears to have a bigger problem with legal marijuana in Nevada than the gaming industry, which has, so far, taken more action against cannabis than Jeff Sessions. In this context, Sandoval’s bizarrely adamant reaction is perfectly understandable: It’s a safe bet.