Say you’re at a friend’s birthday weekend in Las Vegas. You’re about to head out to party at one of the many fabulous and mind-blowing bars or clubs. Maybe you’re going to dance the night away with Calvin Harris at Omnia or chill poolside at Drai’s Beach Club, but you sort of want to take the edge off just a little bit, to open yourself up to the enjoyments that will indeed be had. In the past, you couldn't do that with cannabis unless you wanted a $600 fine or the possibility of deportation if you’re not from the United States. If consumed it private, this is no longer the case. And starting today, locals can now buy cannabis in the state legally.
In the November 2016 election, voters passed the Nevada Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Question 2) with 54 percent of the vote. Adults age 21 and older can now possess up to an ounce of cannabis or an eighth of concentrate and grow up to six plants in a locked, enclosed area for personal use. Tax revenue from cannabis sales would benefit schools, and regulations would be put in place to enhance safety and protect children. Retail outlets started selling cannabis on July 1, 2017.
Interestingly, a Las Vegas Review-Journal ahead of the election only found 47 percent support, and Sheldon Adelson, whose family owns the paper, spent two million dollars opposing Question 2.
When considering Nevada, the state that is home to Las Vegas—arguably the anything goes party capital of the world—it is hard to understand why its cannabis prohibition laws were historically so strict. For individuals busted with cannabis more than once, NORML described the punishment as thus: “The use of marijuana without authorization is a category E felony punishable by a minimum of 1 year and maximum of 4 years imprisonment and a fine up to $5,000.” These are some pretty harsh rules for a state with counties that legalized gambling, open containers of alcohol and prostitution.
Even though medical marijuana (MMJ) was made legal in 2000, the laws of Clark County in particular are still incredibly harsh. There are even instances of law enforcement punishing MMJ growers for growing too much. According to state legislation, NRS 453.336 (the law which prohibits marijuana possession) “punishes citizens merely for keeping some pot for personal use and who have no intention of ever doing anything hurtful with it or profiting from it.”
Much of this changes with the passing of Question 2.
“If we do this right, this will be a major boom to tourism, which is our economy,” said state senator Richard Segerblom, speaking with local Nevada news station KSNV, ahead of the vote. We assume the senator meant “boon” since Vegas certainly doesn’t want to blow up its tourists (just their credit cards).
“Many areas of Nevada suffer from very high unemployment rates, and marijuana legalization can help alleviate that,” said retired Major Neill Franklin after the vote. Franklin, a vet of the Baltimore and Maryland State Police Departments and executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), added, "The new industry will employ many Nevadans, and discontinuing most marijuana arrests will help improve people’s chances at employment and climbing the economic ladder."
This is an excellent development for the state’s most visited attraction, Las Vegas. Thirty-nine million people visited The Strip in 2013 alone, making it the most-visited tourist destination in the world. According to Lessley Anderson of The Verge, if just one percent of these tourists were to purchase cannabis while visiting Las Vegas, the numbers will be exponentially large—anywhere from $600 million to $1.5 billion in sales.
Alcohol wholesalers are the major influencers in the fight to have cannabis legalized in Nevada. In fact, more than $87,000 has already been contributed to the campaign for legalization by alcohol vendors. Why do alcohol vendors have such an interest in decriminalizing cannabis?
Well, according to Marijuana Business Daily, “The initiative as written would give alcohol retailers exclusive rights to distribute cannabis for the first 18 months of legal sales. That could mean hundreds of millions in sales for Nevada’s alcohol retailers.”
In that way, it seems that liquor wholesalers are simply trying to expand their turf by backing legal recreational marijuana use. This clause will push out any small businesses, entrepreneurs and collectives from getting a foothold in the door.
Can we call Nevada a success story for the cannabis industry and its increasingly accepted public image? Maybe. Any step toward ending prohibition is generally a good one, but the push in Nevada is about profits for the alcohol industry and not freedom, social justice or personal health. Furthermore, singular control of the cannabis trade will limit the ancillary benefits experienced by small businesses in places like Colorado. Nevertheless, the prospect of merging cannabis legalization and the Las Vegas party atmosphere has many people asking, “Will Vegas become the Amsterdam of the West?”
Caesar’s Palace could certainly use a posh Dutch coffee shop.
Photo credit: Unsplash.