Nevada could become the first state in the U.S. to allow marijuana consumption in public indoor spaces such as lounges, according to a state legal body this week. The ruling could bolster the already thriving business and give smokers more options.
Nevada’s Legislative Counsel Bureau on Monday permitted the use of legal marijuana in public areas only if the user is of legal age. State law does not forbid city or county governments from operating a lounge or club dedicated to marijuana use, the bureau said. Cities and counties are permitted to govern businesses and decide upon the use of special permits, according to the bureau.
The news sparked relief among marijuana users, who will be able to light up in public. Smoking marijuana is banned in Nevada’s casinos and hotels, according to state law. Nevada became the fifth state to legalize the plant on July 1, which allowed adults 21 and older to purchase it. None of the four other states where marijuana is legal for recreational use — Washington, Colorado, Alaska, and Oregon — allowed smoking in lounges.
Marijuana supporters welcomed the lounges and called it a logical next step for the state. Nevada is currently one of the most popular tourist distensions in the world with its gaming and conventions and is expected to attract more smokers.
“Allowing regulated social use areas is a good solution that recognizes cannabis consumers’ rights to congregate just like alcohol drinkers can in bars while also protecting nonconsumers’ rights not to inhale secondhand smoke,” Tom Angell, the founder of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group told The Hill. “It should be a no-brainer, especially in tourist towns like Las Vegas where visitors don’t have private residences they can go back to imbibe.”
However, marijuana naysayers suggested the growing number of lounges and places where the plant can be utilized, increased the chance of crime in the area.
“The people of Nevada wanted folks not to go to jail for using marijuana,” Kevin Sabet, head of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told The Hill. “I don’t think they envisioned pot clubs in their neighborhood.”
“Data show that areas around marijuana stores have higher crime and issues with second-hand smoke and other nuisances. I can’t imagine pot clubs will be a good thing for the state,” Sabet said according to The Hill.
Anti-legalization supporters worried about the how carefully regulators would inspect the marijuana being used at the lounges, and what type of impact it would have on the neighborhood.
“Every major social problem is simply exacerbated when you have higher amounts of marijuana available,” Carla Lowe, the founder, and co-chair of Citizens Against Legal Marijuana told CBS News. “What is going to be the impact on these people that are driving home and what’s going to be the impact on crime?”
State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who championed marijuana legalization in the state, suggested that bars, lounges and bed and breakfasts could offer a safe place for adults to consume the plant. People already used it in public spaces, he argued.
“What they do is they go to a dispensary and go back to the casinos right now,” he told CBS News. “To me, it’s better to openly do it than surreptitiously go back to the casinos.”
Cities and counties will issue limited licenses to let businesses test the marijuana lounges “on an experimental basis,” Segerblom said, according to CBS News, and stated it would be successful in Las Vegas.
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval told the Record-Courier Tuesday he hadn’t read the opinion yet, but doesn’t regard it as the final say in the matter. Sandoval has expressed concern over whether such lounges could invite a federal crackdown in the state given that marijuana is still listed as an illegal, Schedule 1 drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
“An LCB opinion does not have precedential value,” Sandoval told the Record-Courier, adding that he would prefer an official opinion from the state’s Attorney General.