Ever since Nevada legalized adult-use cannabis in 2016, consumers (and especially tourists) have wanted to know: When can I light up in a Las Vegas cannabis lounge?
For the past six years the answer has been: Soon…we think.
And here we are in 2022 telling you that cannabis lounges are close to opening in Las Vegas, and this time it’s for real. We think.
After years of delay, weed lounges are finally going to open in Las Vegas.
The Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board announced last week it will begin accepting applications on Oct. 14 from anyone wishing to open a weed lounge. Those licenses aren’t limited to current retail license holders. The board will close the application window on Oct. 27 and issue the first-ever lounge licenses shortly after, according to Cannabis Control Board member Riana Durrett.
“The retail stores will likely open a lot faster each because each company is automatically entitled to a license if they want it, and many have already been pre-approved,” Durrett said. “We’re doing a lottery for an additional 20 lounges for non-dispensary owners.”
Translation: A couple of dozen of lounges could dot Las Vegas by early 2023. Once the state issues licenses toward the end of this year, lounge owners must also get the blessing of local authorities.
Quick OK’s expected for lounges
The City of Las Vegas, which tried to legalize lounges back in 2019 before the state infamously stepped in to shut it down, figures to be the quickest to green light the venues.
Unincorporated Clark County, which covers the Las Vegas Strip and most of the Vegas Valley and has the most operating dispensaries, will almost certainly come next.
And if lounge owners who shared their plans with Leafly have their way, the venues will be worth the wait.
One of the world’s busiest cannabis markets
Nevada did nearly $1 billion in marijuana sales in 2021 and is on pace to equal those figures in 2022. It’s home to the world’s two largest dispensaries and new fast-food style marijuana drive-thrus appearing what seems like every week.
In pure Silver State spirit, the lounge bill passed last year allows the venues to be as large as operators desire, allowing for some serious innovation. The only rules, for now, are that consumption venues can’t be within 1,500 feet of a casino, 1,000 feet of a school or 300 feet of a ‘community facility’ such as a church or public park.
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Planet 13 planning ‘lounge of true luxury’
At Planet 13, the world’s largest dispensary with its 16,000 square-feet shopping area, owners Larry Scheffler and Bob Groesbeck plan to convert the venue’s 4,500 square foot Mexican restaurant into a massive “entertainment complex.”
Scheffler told Leafly the venue will be “a lounge of true luxury” complete with live music, food and room for nearly 400 guests. The still-undeveloped venue will target tourists on the Las Vegas Strip, just a block away from Planet 13.
It’s a step back from the team’s original plans to develop an 8,500 square-foot warehouse into a weed mega-nightclub with a view of the Strip. But Scheffler said Planet 13 wants to start small to “see how everything goes.”
“It’s new to all of us, and we want to make sure everything goes as planned,” he said. “It’s also a matter of convenience and being able to move quickly. Converting the restaurant is cost-efficient and allows us to get the lounge up and running sooner.”
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Paiute Tribe planning to go big, breaking ground
The Las Vegas Paiute Tribe since 2019 has operated the only consumption venue in Nevada, thanks to a state law that essentially lets tribes play by their own rules on weed.
But the impending lounge boom has inspired the Paiute council to break ground for a nightclub-style cannabis lounge on a 200,000-square-foot lot next to its flagship dispensary near downtown Vegas. A representative for the tribe confirmed plans for a massive cannabis club at the site, but declined to offer additional details.
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Supper club coming to downtown Las Vegas
Meanwhile, in downtown Las Vegas, plans are underway for a cool cannabis supper club.
Chris LaPorte founded Insert Coins, a downtown Las Vegas nightclub and lounge inspired by video game culture, back in 2011. The one-of-a-kind venue aimed to fuse Sin City’s vintage history with modern gaming trends like e-sports.
After five years at the helm, LaPorte moved on from Insert Coins to focus on an idea with more potential: legal weed. His new company, Reset Vegas, is teaming up with Thrive Dispensary to create a cannabis restaurant, complete with infused gourmet foods like filet mignon coupled with live music.
“It’s about the entertainment,” LaPorte said. “Picture classic Las Vegas and the lounge singing. When most people think about cannabis, they probably have music in mind. We designed a supper club where you have great eats paired with well-curated music.”
LaPorte said his will bring in live music and DJs “that understand the 60s and 70s but also can incorporate different kinds of new indie rock.
“A lot of cool new under-the-radar music, then just integrating it with some really good sounds that you remember from your past,” he explained.
The cannabis supper club will launch with room for just 40 to 60 guests, so staff can keep an eye on customers and make sure nobody drives home high.
Keeping a careful eye on consumption and driving
Similar to lounges in San Francisco, Denver and Massachusetts, Vegas lounges will be required to educate customers on proper consumption limits and use discretion when serving customers who appear intoxicated. CCB regulations require lounges to submit a plan for limiting impaired driving, such as partnering with a rideshare company or having a no-tow policy.
“We’re not going to take your car,” LaPorte said. “You can grab an Uber or Lyft and just come back to pick your ride up the next day.”
Casinos could still delay this, of course
Tick Segerblom, a former state senator who now sits on the Clark County Commission, promised Las Vegas would become “Amsterdam on Steroids” when he championed the Silver State’s road to adult-use legalization back in 2016. Six years later, Sin City is dotted with mega-dispensaries along with hundreds of grow houses and production facilities. But there’s still nowhere outside the Paiute lounge and private residences for over 1.4 million local adults and 40 million annual tourists to legally use the plant.
It wasn’t supposed to take this long for consumption venues to launch. Segerblom, a Democrat from Las Vegas known in weed circles as Nevada’s Godfather of Cannabis, wanted them right away. But the almighty casino lobby wouldn’t have it.
Democrats cut off lounges in past sessions
Steered by their gaming donors, Democrat leaders refused to give the Segerblom’s 2017 Senate bill a hearing. Then, as momentum for weed lounges picked up in advance of the 2019 legislative session, the state’s gaming lobby publicly decried the idea as too much too soon. Chairwoman Virginia Valentine of the Nevada Resorts Association asked city officials to delay opening the lounges “until further information is available from other jurisdictions.”
When the Las Vegas City Council passed a local ordinance to green light weed lounges in 2019, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office crammed through a state law at the 11th hour of the Nevada legislature to ban consumption venues across Nevada for at least two more years. The law gave gaming venues more time to wait for federal legalization.
That federal legalization never came, of course. And now the two-year moratorium has expired.
Why don’t casinos just open their own weed lounges?
Any hotel not attached to a casino is free to apply for a cannabis lounge license. But for casino resorts it’s a different story. Until Uncle Sam comes on board, casino resorts can’t open their own lounges without risking their gaming licenses. Even though cannabis is legal statewide, the Nevada Gaming Commission has issued stern warnings to its licensees: Marijuana is not allowed anywhere on their properties due to its federal Schedule I status.
So opening their own lounges isn’t an option at this point. But in the meantime, casino resorts don’t want their visitors wandering offsite to enjoy a pre-roll (and spending money) at another company’s lounge.
That’s what the cannabis lounge delay is all about.
Casino resorts are the state’s #1 economic engine
When the gaming industry takes a strong political stand on an issue like this, it can be difficult to overcome.
In Nevada, casinos gave more money to politicos than any other industry. Gaming resort companies on the Strip combine to contribute millions of dollars each election cycle to elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels.
Michael Green, a UNLV professor and Vegas history buff, has written five books on the 150-plus-year history of Nevada and, more recently, Sin City. If Green’s studies taught him anything, it’s this: When gaming wants something, gaming gets it.
“If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that gaming will be involved in some way or form at every level of government,” Green said. “And not just involved. It will very often have the most powerful seat at the table because it’s such a huge part of the state’s economy.”
Gaming industry accepting the inevitable
But will they step in again? The CCB’s Riana Durrett doesn’t think so.
The Nevada Resorts Association has remained silent since last year’s lounge bill passed at the state. Rumblings from within the weed and gaming industries suggest both have accepted the reality of lounges finally launching.
“I think it’s 99.9 percent likely we’re going to get them now,” Durrett said.
“Cannabis is that new boom that Las Vegas has no choice but to accept. We hope federal regulations make it easier for our casino friends, but for now we’re creating a place for this tourism boom.”
“It’s going to put heads in beds and that’s good for everyone here.”