Vegas Tourists Can Legally Buy Weed But Where Can They Use It?

By Paul Gaita 08/10/17

Visitors and residents face a $600 fine if they are caught using marijuana in public in Nevada.

2 tourists taking a picture in front of famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign

State law that went into effect on July 1, 2017 allows Nevada residents and visitors aged 21 years and over to legally purchase marijuana for recreational use. The legislation was expected to provide tremendous revenue for the state, thanks to the huge influx of tourists that come to Las Vegas who are expected to account for 63% of recreational pot sales in Nevada.

But as marijuana retailers have discovered, that potential windfall has been undermined by a provision in the law which forbids recreational marijuana from being consumed in public, which includes the vast number of casinos and hotels in Las Vegas, as well as in convention centers, parks, live music venues and even vehicles or pedestrian paths along the fabled Strip.

"About 70 to 80% [of my customers] are tourists," said Armen Yemenidjian, who owns a dispensary in Las Vegas, in an interview with CBS News.

Few, if any, have access to private residences where they can consume marijuana products. Twenty-five-year-old David Harper, visiting from Houston, said he'll have to be "discreet" about consuming his purchases in order to avoid the $600 fine imposed by violating the public use ban. For Yemenidijian, the logic behind the mandate is self-defeating. "No other industry in the world can you buy a product and then not use it anywhere," he said. "It's silly."

Nevada's gaming industry has offered "very vocal" opinions regarding the interaction between its community and recreational marijuana. Tony Alamo, who heads the Nevada Gaming Commission, described the casinos' stance as such: "This is the marijuana industry. This is the gaming industry. And the two shall never meet." According to Alamo, this viewpoint is based less on personal preference than on federal law, by which both industries must abide.

"At the end of the day, it's very clear cut. It's against federal law," he explained. "And until the federal law changes, that's the standard they have to maintain."

Others are hopeful that a compromise can be struck by creating public spaces designated solely for marijuana use, as is done in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Nevada State Senator Tick Segerblom is in favor of such action. "People are already buying it. People are using it. So this is not something new," he noted. "Let's go ahead and take the next step and acknowledge that fact and provide a venue for them where they can have fun."

Scot Rutledge, campaign manager for Know the Facts Nevada, a recreational marijuana educational initiative launched by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada—which led last year's legalization campaign—believes that the solution is coming soon.

"I think we'll probably get some sort of ordinance developed in [Clark County and the city of Las Vegas] sometime this year," said Rutledge. "Then hopefully we'll see both consumption lounges and events that will allow consumption to become available to both tourists and locals next year."

Until then, residents and more tourists like Dave Harper will have to keep their consumption under wraps. He takes some comfort in knowing that he's not alone in his covert activities. "I'm definitely not the only one," he said.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.