Chain restaurants all over the world are beginning to offer cannabis-infused drinks––but not in California. The Golden State has the nation’s strictest laws regulating cannabis consumption, and in November it became legal for adults to grow up to six plants at home, but smoking or vaping anything else still remains prohibited.

Last month, the Nevada state legislature passed a bill that would allow for consumption lounges to be built in licensed cannabis shops across the state. The bill allows for someone who is 21 or older to consume cannabis in a lounging area that is separate from the main part of the shop. The lounging area can be no larger than 1,000 square feet and must be located in a separate, locked room. There are no requirements for the lounging area, which must comply with all rules established by the state.

Cannabis consumption lounges will make their debut in Nevada next year under a law signed earlier this month by Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak. This bill, Assembly Bill 341 (AB341), was signed into law on the 4th. June by Sisolak after being approved by legislators in both houses of the legislature in May. Currently, cannabis consumption is only allowed locally, at the NuWu Cannabis Marketplace on Las Vegas Paiute Tribe land north of downtown.

The legislation allows for two types of cannabis businesses. Retailer waiting rooms are operated by licensed marijuana dispensaries, while independent cannabis consumer waiting rooms are not affiliated with retailers. Both types of stores will sell ready-to-use or disposable cannabis products intended for on-site consumption by adults 21 and older. Entertainment is allowed, but alcohol is not permitted.

Think of it as a bar, except of course there’s no alcohol, Steve Yeager, the bill’s author, said at a Senate Finance Committee hearing, as quoted by Forbes. It can be a joint, an edible, an infused meal or an infused soft drink, whatever the concept.

Yeager added that other new concepts are likely to emerge, noting that ideas such as sophisticated restaurants serving cannabis-infused food, cannabis-friendly yoga classes and comedy clubs featuring marijuana products could become reality.

Anything you can imagine is possible, Yeager said.

Ben Kovler, CEO and founder of multi-state cannabis operator Green Thumb Industries, said the company plans to open a lounge dispensary by GTI on the Las Vegas Strip in May as part of a licensing agreement with Cookies brand founders, rapper Berner and fellow rapper Jai.

When people come to Vegas for a bachelorette party, a wedding or just to see friends they haven’t seen for 15 months, they will want to get together and use cannabis, and soon there will be lounges they can use and they will want to come to the cookies, Covler said. What could be better than Las Vegas? It is a city of experiences in the middle of the desert.

Consumerism and social justice

The arrival of cannabis dispensaries in Nevada will do justice to the state’s efforts to reform marijuana policy. Prior to AB341, cannabis use was legal under state law only in private residences with landlord permission, exposing tenants and visitors to unequal enforcement of drug laws, which has been repeatedly documented. Cannabis use is prohibited in hotels and casinos.

Consumption spaces are important because they help protect people from biased law enforcement, fines or penalties that cause real harm by prolonging the war on drugs, Noel Gordon, a Las Vegas cannabis and social equality advocate, told Filter.

The legislation also contains social justice provisions built into the licensing rules for cannabis consumption premises. Nevada’s legalization initiative, passed in 2016, does not include strong equal opportunity measures. Such failures are now likely to lead to the failure or delay of legalization proposals, as evidenced by the recent and ultimately successful reforms in New Jersey and New York.

Qualified applicants who want to open a cannabis salon will receive a discount of up to 75 percent on the application fee, which can be as high as $30,000. Under the bill, a social justice applicant is a person who has been adversely affected by the provisions of prior laws criminalizing cannabis activities, including, but not limited to, adversely affecting the applicant’s owner, officer, or director, or the geographic area in which the applicant would operate under the law.

In addition, the number of licenses for independent cannabis consumption rooms will initially be limited to 20, with half reserved for social justice applicants. But despite his efforts, Gordon is not convinced that the social justice provisions will work as intended.

I’m not too optimistic about achieving social justice, Gordon said. We still live in a prohibitionist version of legalization in Nevada, where you can buy and consume cannabis in your own home, but if you consume it on the sidewalk, in a hotel room, or at a friend’s house, you’re still subject to some sort of punishment or criminal sanction.

AB341 takes effect in October and state regulators are expected to begin accepting applications to open cannabis lounges in July. But as the rules are still being worked out, the first consumer clubs probably won’t open until next year.

The Cannabis Compliance Board continues to study the law and licensing requirements for consumer premises in Nevada, said Tiana Boehner, spokeswoman for the board. The council will seek to issue rules and begin issuing permits in early 2022.

Bob Grosbeck, the CEO of Planet 13, the world’s largest dispensary in Las Vegas with 112,000 square feet, said his company has been planning to open a cannabis lounge at the location since AB341 was adopted two years ago.

Our SuperStore is one of the few dispensaries that has the on-site space and proximity to the Las Vegas Strip to create an authentic Vegas-style club, Grosbeck said in a statement to Planet 13. Like all of our dispensaries, we want to set the bar high and show the industry what is possible when your goal is to get out of Vegas, Vegas, Vegas.

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