By, Kimberley McGee
Marijuana dispensaries in Las Vegas are building destination attractions in anticipation of a potential rush of marijuana tourism to the Nevada region. Now, the laws need to change to catch up to demand.
That may be changing sooner than later as the city of Las Vegas is paving a path to allow consumption in onsite legal lounges. On Sept. 4, 2018, bill 2018-20 began winding through the city approval process that includes review by the city attorney general’s office, a public comment period, and approval by the City Council. If the bill is approved, the city of Las Vegas will accept applications for lounges to exist — perhaps even next to dispensaries. The sponsor of the bill, Council member Bob Coffin, is working with city staff on the draft bill to allow legal lounges to open as early as Nov. 1, 2018.
Meanwhile, some dispensaries have already built lounges in anticipation of legal onsite consumption.
“We are getting busier every month,” said Jen McClaning, manager for NuWu Cannabis Marketplace north of downtown Las Vegas, regarding recreational marijuana sales. “It’s gone way past what we expected, and we keep growing to meet the needs.”
The Acres Cannabis dispensary aims to take marijuana retailing to the next level. (Photo courtesy of Acres Cannabis)
However, state, county, and city laws prevent the vast majority of tourists from consuming any of their purchases. Currently, adults can legally purchase and carry 1 ounce, or 28.35 grams, of flower or one-eighth of an ounce, or about 3.5 grams, of THC concentrate, but they can’t consume it — not in a park, not in the street, and not in the expected privacy of their hotel room.
Though elected officials hope to cash in on the lucrative cannabis economy, they have yet to determine exactly how on-site consumption could work. One version proposes that lounges won’t be able to sell the product, but consumers will be able to enjoy their own marijuana, along with food and drinks that contain no more than 11 percent alcohol by volume.
Local dispensaries have been building on the momentum for recreational marijuana purchase and use long before the lawmakers got into the groove.
“We’ve noticed that marijuana, the edibles, CBD, it’s all gaining in popularity,” McClaning said. “We are growing really rapidly and organically. Word of mouth has been great.”
NuWu sits on Native American tribal land close to downtown Las Vegas and the Fremont Street Experience. It has a 24-hour drive-thru, where visitors can buy flower, concentrates, vape pens, edibles, CBD, paraphernalia, and more.
“We are a 24-hour city, so we have a constant flow of people that go through the drive-through,” McClaning said.
To handle the customer load, the store has hired more employees — particularly for the store’s busiest time between noon and 6 p.m. on the weekends.
Anticipated stratospheric demand also is boosting the business plan at the Planet 13 Las Vegas marijuana dispensary, a superstore west of McCarran International Airport that aims to expand cannabis culture and commerce. The Las Vegas-based marijuana company is aiming for a November 2018 opening of a 40,000-square-foot entertainment complex at Desert Inn and Industrial roads. The complex, a block west of the Las Vegas Strip, will be the first phase of an entertainment center that could stretch to 118,000 square feet. The new venue will combine a dispensary with an over-the-top entertainment area where patrons may consume while enjoying interactive design features.
It hopes to redefine the cannabis retail buying experience with its new marijuana business model when the center is completed. The traditional point-and-pay business model for marijuana dispensaries simply won’t work in Las Vegas, a Planet 13 representative said.
“It’s a pretty large endeavor,” said David Farris, director of marketing for Planet 13 Holdings Inc. “We wanted something grand and special that hasn’t been done, really, in the world when it comes to marijuana.”
Planet 13 plans to open a 40,000-square-foot marijuana dispensary one block from the center of the Las Vegas Strip. The target opening date is November 2018. (Illustration Courtesy of Planet 13)
Planet 13 will have an interactive LED-lit floor, laser graffiti walls that customers can write on, and vivid lotus flowers that bloom on the roof to attract customers to its fire-enhanced entrance. There will be 40 cash registers to accommodate the 2,000 daily customers expected at the dispensary.
Planet 13, which has a dispensary on Sunset Road west of McCarran International Airport, anticipates 2,000 customers a day at its larger store set to open next to the Las Vegas Strip in November 2018. (Illustration courtesy of Planet 13)
“We’re ready for the laws to catch up to us,” he said. “Right now, especially with marijuana laws, our hands are tied a little bit. We want to be a beacon of light for marijuana (users) with lots of visibility and entertainment for them. We are determined to be an exceptional experience where people will come out and hang for hours.”
Tourists drawn to the resort region ’s dispensaries often are unsure of the rules regarding purchase and consumption.
“A huge component for us is spreading the awareness,” Farris said. “We still need to educate the tourists who come to Las Vegas.”
One local dispensary addressed that educational deficit with a first: an information-heavy Marijuana Farmer’s Market that encourages customers to engage with trained staff members.
Acres Cannabis hosts an underground-themed educational Marijuana Farmer’s Market each Friday where tourists can ask questions from vendors.. (Photo courtesy of Acres Cannabis)
“The tourists ask a lot more questions than our locals,” said John Mueller, CEO of Acres Cannabis, “We’re all about education at Acres. We train our staff extensively. With the Farmer’s Market, we try to take education to another level.”
Customers are given a badge and enter the sprawling farmer’s market through a tunnel where they can check out booths featuring small growers and producers, vendors, marijuana-themed entertainment and more. By the time customers emerge, they’ve hopefully become enlightened, Mueller said.
One of the many areas at Acres Cannabis where patrons can relax and consider their purchases, but not imbibe them onsite. (Photo courtesy of Acres Cannabis)
Shoppers at the market can explore the medicinal and recreational benefits of marijuana. Recent products have included THC-infused coffee and CBD personal lubricant, as well as regional flower and pre-rolls.
Mueller said he expects that Las Vegas will become a place where shoppers can feel comfortable buying marijuana, and where vendors will seek exposure to the city’s international, marijuana-curious visitors.
“It’s a different buying experience,” Mueller said. “They are getting to know about the brands and the quality of the product, the extraction method. Our goal is to act directly with the customer so they have a better buying experience.”