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Pot Is Legal in Las Vegas—But You Still Can’t Smoke It

Chris Roberts

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So you did it. You booked the flight, you booked the hotel and now you’re in Las Vegas, in the backseat of a hired car, on your way to buy some recreational marijuana.

Who knows—maybe you were one of the very first in line when the clock struck 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, July 1, and Nevada cannabis dispensaries were able to start selling over-the-counter to any adult 21 and older. If so, you have something in common with the crew that braved January cold and snow in Denver in 2014. You were there for an historic moment—the fourth state in the country to allow adults to buy weed, and the first of the four states that legalized marijuana on Election Day in November to record a sale.

But if you weren’t the first and haven’t yet made plans to take in Sin City’s latest delight, take heart: You, or any one of the 43 million people a year who visit Las Vegas every year, can still be the very first person to legally smoke marijuana in Las Vegas—whenever it is that the particular privilege is extended to the public.

Like everywhere else marijuana prohibition has been lifted and the use, sale and cultivation of cannabis has been legalized, there are very few places where it’s legal to smoke marijuana in Nevada. Your home, or private property where the property owner condones such legal behavior. Which, as Las Vegas Weekly’s Cindi Reed pointed out in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, means just about zero places in Las Vegas where a pot-seeking tourist is likely to be.

Smoking in public? Sure, go for it, but that’s a $600 fine.

At your hotel? Is it in a casino? Yes? Then absolutely not (as casinos stand to lose gaming licenses for allowing marijuana, and it was not for nothing that the most generous opponent of legalization in the fall was a casino magnate). Never before has there been a better market for a 420-friendly Airbnb, though they admittedly offer less in the way of generous vacation packages.

So far, Las Vegas has yet to legalize something as simple as a marijuana consumption lounge. It should be noted that only now, almost five years after Colorado legalized marijuana, is Denver getting around to addressing that issue. Five years, to figure out how to issue a piece of paper to a place where people are going to smoke weed. 

It will be a long, long time before Las Vegas is anything like “Amsterdam on steroids,” as wishful-thinking state Sen. Tick Segerblom predicted to the Las Vegas Sun.

Not that people aren’t smoking weed and won’t. People smoke weed on the Las Vegas Strip right now. They did when it was wholly illegal, they did it when only medical marijuana was legal. Police will probably not bother to do anything about it, like before.

But! The point of legalization isn’t to continue sneaking around, tossing half-smoked joints anyway and engaging in the wink-and-a-nod charade. The point—right?—was to start acting like this is acceptable behavior, because it is.

Instead, in the short term, Las Vegas can look forward to packs of pasty British tourists barricading themselves in their rooms at Circus-Circus after eating too much of a super-strength edible, and a spike in car air-freshener sales.

Because this is America, and this is how we legalize marijuana—in fits, starts and with obvious questions unanswered.  

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