In October 2017, just a few months after legal cannabis sales kicked off in Nevada, dispensary owner John Mueller sat down with Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo for an hourlong chat about the next step forward for cannabis in the Silver State.
“We had over 40 million tourists coming to Las Vegas, a growing number of them buying marijuana, and absolutely nowhere for them to legally use it,” Mueller said. “People were consuming illegally on the streets, in their cars, parking garages, and hotel rooms.”
Cannabis customers, Mueller told the sheriff, needed a place to legally consume.
More than 18 months after that early meeting, Mueller took his plea to the Las Vegas City Council this week. Nevada’s Legislature had axed a bill to permit state-licensed cannabis lounges, so it was up to city officials to give the green light.
“We want to get in a controlled environment,” he explained. “We’ve got to give people a legal way to go out and consume something we’re selling to them and we’re collecting taxes on.”
His mission was a success. After a slew of public meetings, council workshops, and hearings over the past year and a half, the City Council on Wednesday voted 4–1 to approve an ordinance allowing cannabis lounges.
The 11-page final ordinance, amended several times since it was first proposed in December 2017, allows for on-premises food and non-alcoholic beverage sales. The lounges themselves are required to be separate indoor facilities—no windows or outdoor access—and can’t be located within a cannabis retail space. To appease the resort and gaming industry, which began lobbying late in the process, lounges can’t be located within 1,000 feet of a Las Vegas property that offers gaming. Just about everything else is fair play.
Local licensing for the lounges will be available only to licensed cannabis retailers located on city property—currently 12, plus an additional 10 stores slated to open in Las Vegas by the end of the year.
The additional 38 dispensaries located outside city bounds, such as in North Las Vegas, Henderson, and unincorporated Clark County—which includes the Las Vegas Strip—are excluded from the ordinance. Those marijuana stores will have to wait until their respective local governments approve social consumption.
For Mueller, who owns Acres Cannabis, a retailer located on city land just north of the Strip, the near-exclusive opportunity represents a chance to lead, he said. While the new lounges won’t open for at least four months, according to city spokesman Jace Radke, Mueller said he’s ready to hit the ground running.
An 8,000 square-foot room located at the back of Acres has been set aside for social consumption for months now, and it will soon be turned into a lounge—not to mention a makeshift concert venue, massage parlor, yoga studio, and private event center—where cannabis consumers of all walks of life can enjoy the plant together, Mueller said.
Because the lounges can’t be located in the same facility as a dispensary, Mueller, like other retailers owners planning to open an associated lounge, will have a separate address for the consumption facility—something as simple as labeling it “Suite B.”
Mueller said that’s “just the beginning” of his plans for the lounge. For competition’s sake—at least seven to eight other dispensaries are expected to open their own lounges—he said he’s keeping most of the details under wraps until the venue opens to the public.
Frank Hawkins, a former Super Bowl-winning running back, is another owner planning to open a lounge. Hawkins’s 7,800-square-foot facility, just up an elevator from Nevada Wellness Center’s shopping area, features over a dozen separate rooms with private areas for playing virtual reality games and dominoes, a recording studio, a CBD product store, and even a boardroom for groups that have expressed interest in holding meetings there. A shuffleboard table, a room with a giant white wall and projector, and an area for vending machines and microwaves are among other planned amenities for Hawkins’ lounge.
“We wanted this to be upscale,” he said, “so when athletes and entertainers come, they can have their own private rooms.”
The Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, which operates the 15,800-square-foot NuWu Cannabis Marketplace on tribal land near downtown Las Vegas, may be the lone group outside city limits to benefit from the ordinance. The tribe can play by its own rules thanks to a special pact with the Nevada governor’s office that allows the Paiutes to bypass federal law on negotiations related to marijuana commerce.
Reached Friday, a Las Vegas Paiute representative said the tribe was not ready to comment. But this past March, tribal Chairman Chris Spotted Eagle said that a vacant, 11-acre plot of tribal land next to the dispensary will become a consumption lounge “when the time is right.”