The case for cannabis use lounges

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The Nevada cannabis industry has come a long way since voters approved Question 2 in 2016. In passing this bill, Nevada joined efforts to find sensible solutions to decriminalize and regulate adult cannabis. When legislators passed AB533 in 2019, the Cannabis Compliance Board (CCB) was set up to improve oversight and transparency in the industry. As part of its task, the CCB was tasked with examining the lounges for cannabis use and providing data on the diversity of the industry. At the beginning of this year, reports were presented to the legislature setting out the data on these issues. With these data in mind, it is time for lawmakers to see the Nevada cannabis industry become fairer and more diverse, while also addressing a serious public policy error related to social cannabis use.

AB341 would be one of the most dynamic cannabis laws in the country, a progressive new policy that would create new businesses and employ hundreds of Nevadans while generating new revenue for the state. Some of these businesses will be owned and operated by members of our community who have been harmed by the failed policy of the war on drugs, which disproportionately affects people of color. In addition, our state needs to create new opportunities for hospitality workers who may not find a job to return to once the pandemic restrictions are lifted.

Bill 341 would direct the Cannabis Compliance Board to regulate the licensing and operation of cannabis use lounges and allow new licensees to enter the market. The lounges would be awarded on the basis of a rating system, but there would be no limit to the number of applicants or licenses. However, there is a limit to the number of licenses an individual or group can own. Local governments would be responsible for approving land use applications and providing business licenses to those who qualify. Additionally, social justice applicants have the option to apply for and receive a license, which is a first in the Nevada cannabis market.

Both existing retail stores and independent businesses could apply for the two new license types for cannabis use lounges, and both would function almost identically with a few exceptions. First, both license types could sell cannabis and even manufacture new products locally in the form of ready-to-eat, infused cannabis foods and beverages. Second, independent cannabis use lounges would have the ability to decide whether to sell cannabis-based products in their business model. If they choose not to sell cannabis products, there are regulations that allow cannabis to be supplied to their customers from a licensed retail cannabis store. In some cases, they can choose to have their customers bring legal cannabis to their venue in sealed packaging from a licensed cannabis retail store.

Regardless of their business model, these licenses are strictly regulated and must follow strict guidelines for their operations, including employee safety, health and safety, safe use of cannabis products, and customer safety through training. Every employee and manager must undergo extensive training in serve smart techniques, including the effects of cannabis and responsible use, with special attention to identifying overuse and mitigating the risks involved.

As for the urgency of now, we are all aware of the elephant in the room, more precisely the hotel rooms. Consumers run the risk of being charged with a wrongdoing or fined by a company for lighting or ingesting their favorite cannabis product in a public place. It is currently illegal to consume cannabis outside of your home. If you live in a rental property or visit our great state, you are at risk every time you choose to consume. This is neither a sustainable nor a just policy for Nevadans. And as for tourism, given our hospitable spirit and reputation as an internationally recognized destination, we must do better. Regulating social cannabis use is an idea whose time has come.

Tina Ulman is the founder and president of the Cannabis Chamber, a 501 (c) 6 not-for-profit corporate association. Previously, she volunteered as a development director for Nevada NORML and Las Vegas NORML. She is also the Nevada brand manager for Old Pal, a cannabis company that provides affordable, quality products to the Nevada market.

Scot Rutledge is a Nevada cannabis industry attorney who led efforts to legalize adult cannabis as campaign manager for Question 2 in 2016. He works with cannabis customers and ancillary companies in the industry. He is a lobbyist for the Cannabis Chamber and has been working with the local government firm Argentum Partners since 2015. He is also a board member of HopeLink in Southern Nevada, a local nonprofit that works to prevent homelessness and maintain hope.