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Time to Leave Las Vegas, Gaming Commish Tells Cannabis Trade Shows

Nevada gaming officials have long forbidden marijuana use in casinos. But an advisory floated last week threatens to wipe out the cannabis industry’s biggest convention in Las Vegas, as well as a number of smaller seminars and trade shows.

The Gaming Commission strongly 'discouraged' casinos from hosting shows or conferences that promote cannabis.

Though no official vote was taken nor policy established, the five-member Nevada Gaming Commission during its monthly meeting Aug. 24 unanimously agreed that casino licensees should be “discouraged” from hosting cannabis-related trade shows or conferences in casino convention spaces and ballrooms.

“The marijuana industry and the gaming industries are two different industries and the two will not meet,” said commission chairman Tony Alamo. Alamo cited marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law. “If licensees take that and move backwards from there I think they’re going to find themselves in the right place.”

The idea of pushing cannabis conventions out of Nevada casinos could threaten the annual MJ Biz Conference, the industry’s largest trade show. The even has been held in Las Vegas since 2012. Last year’s edition, held at the Rio All Suite Casino and Hotel, drew upwards of 10,000 attendees. This year’s show is expected to welcome more than  14,000 this year at the Las Vegas Convention Center, according to event organizers.

MJ Biz: We’re Always Legal

MJ Business Daily CEO Cassandra Farrington said her company wasn’t given a heads-up by the commission that the “strong stance” would take place Thursday.

'There is no activated product' at the MJ Biz show. 'We're a business-to-business trade show, like World of Concrete.'

But Farrington, whose Denver-based organization hosts the annual show in Las Vegas, argued that the MJ Biz Conference would still fall into compliance with federal law and gaming venues because vendors do not sell consumable marijuana products.

“We are a business-to-business trade show like World of Concrete or many other conventions that come through Las Vegas,” Farrington said. “The people who exhibit at our shows are grow light manufacturers, seed-to-sale software producers, packaging experts, lawyers and accountants. There is no activated product for sale on the show floor at all.”

The MJ Biz Conference isn’t the only Las Vegas cannabis convention threatened by Thursday’s gaming commission meeting. There’s a cannabis conference, seminar, or expo practically every month, and many are held in casino resorts. There’s a Cannabis Career Fair in September, a Cannabis Nurses Network conference in October, and a cannabis processing facility design seminar in November. Pharmacology University is sponsoring a two-day medical cannabis seminar at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino in October.

Dante Picazo, CEO of Dallas-based Pharmacology, said a focus on medical marijuana education will be key to ensuring the group’s success. Like Farrington, Picazo said he’s confident the convention will comply with federal regulations, because his estimated 1,500 attendees will be encouraged not to smoke or ingest the plant during the show.

“This conference is completely medical and completely about education,” Picazo said.

Adding Drama to Nevada’s Big Summer

Thursday’s revelation continued a turbulent summer in for cannabis-casino regulations surrounding the launch of recreational marijuana sales in Nevada on July 1.

On June 7, Wynn Las Vegas removed CEO Isaac Dietrich of Denver-based social media platform MassRoots from the casino as Dietrich attempted to sign up for the casino giant’s Wynn Resorts’ Red Card program, allegedly due to his involvement in the marijuana industry.

Almost one month later, on July 3, organizers from Los Angeles-based MJIC Capital said the World of Cannabis Convention, which brought over 2,000 investors and industry professionals to the Palms last November, would not be returning to Las Vegas this year.

Alamo reiterated Monday that commission suggestions regarding casinos and marijuana industry business relationships were not official regulations, but rather items to be taken on a “situation by situation” basis at the discretion of individual gaming venues. As long as gaming operators comply with federal law, they’ve “accomplished what they need to do,” he said.

“We’re not here to micromanage the gaming business,” Alamo said. “At the end of the day, whatever they do, they have to set out to not allow the breaking of federal law within their sidewalks.”

Chris Kudialis's Bio Image
Chris Kudialis

Chris Kudialis is a Las Vegas–based cannabis reporter. He has written articles for the Los Angeles Times, Las Vegas Sun, Charlotte Observer, Houston Chronicle, Detroit Free Press, and Brazil's Rio Times, among other metropolitan dailies.

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