Lighting up

A local dispensary has high aspirations for open consumption laws

Ed Alexander examines the plants growing in the SoL Cannabis dispensary’s on-site grow room.

Ed Alexander examines the plants growing in the SoL Cannabis dispensary’s on-site grow room.

The future of open consumption marijuana lounges might not be too far off. Well, at least that’s what Ed Alexander is hoping for.

Alexander, 48, is the owner of SoL Cannabis, a marijuana dispensary in New Washoe City. A marijuana enthusiast for the last 30 years, he’s lobbied extensively for the legalization of recreational marijuana in Nevada, which finally occurred on January 1, 2017.

He opened SoL Cannabis 16 months ago, where it sits on a plot of land right down the street from The Chocolate Factory. Unlike many Nevada cannabis growers, Alexander uses natural sunlight to grow his plants organically—an example of what makes his business a little bit different from many others.

This also allows SoL to be the only dispensary in the state that provides visitors an inside look, literally, into the grow operation. A wall full of windows lines the inside of the dispensary, showing rows of cannabis plants growing in a greenhouse attached to the dispensary. It’s naturally lit via the sun roof with the ability to control the grow environment.

“SoL is also only one of two completely organic grow operations in the United States,” Alexander said.

Those plants are harvested and then used to create products like cartridges, edibles and CBD along with regular flower products. He says he wants SoL to be a place where everyone can be educated on the benefits of marijuana. Signs describing the effects each marijuana plant produces are posted on walls throughout the facility.

“We’re living in a vacuum of facts because, from a scientific standpoint, cannabis is a far safer choice than alcohol,” Alexander said. “But that’s not what the general public believes. And, so, if there’s not somebody out there . . . the Pied Piper of Pot that’s spreading the message of ’Hey, this is a safer choice.’”

Now that SoL is up and running, Alexander has his next goal in his sights—he envisions a future where users can smoke without feeling like it’s still illegal.

“There’s a part of being a cannabis consumer even in a regulated state that still feels dirty,” he said.

But Alexander believes the next logical step in order for the marijuana industry to evolve is to create a space where users can both be educated on and consume products in a responsible, safe and inviting environment. He said the plan is for these open consumption spaces to be attached to the dispensaries themselves.

“Because of the fact that the state and the industry are very cognizant of the black market, if we turn it to where any place that wants to have consumption can have consumption, now we got a guy in the corner with a backpack selling weed,” Alexander said. “From our standpoint, as a potential location for a consumption lounge, you would have to acquire the product on site to be able to consume the product on site.”

The idea is akin to buying drinks at a bar and consuming them there, in a regulated space. Additionally, tourism and out of state users are motivating factors for creating consumption spaces at dispensaries.

“Where are they supposed to consume?” Alexander said. “We know, quantitatively, that people are coming here because of regulated cannabis, but we haven’t given them a place to consume. So, now they’re getting in trouble for smoking in their hotel rooms or rent-a-cars.”

Steven Houge, 52, who is the head chef, budtender and cultivator at SoL, agreed with Alexander’s assessment.

“I spent a lot of time in Amsterdam,” Houge said. “People who are drawn to that will want to do that. I don’t think it will have a huge impact other than out of state visitors.”

Alexander said safety is a big priority for these lounges to be successful, so there needs to be a way to figure out how to accurately judge inebriation after a user leaves a lounge.

“You gotta be responsible for your actions," he said. “You don’t need to be high and driving. We owe it to the consumers, we owe it to our community, to give people places to responsibly consume.”

Karisa Wells, 26, is a budtender at SoL who has worked in the marijuana industry for three-and-a-half years after switching from bartending. She said legalizing open consumption will open up a lot of doors for tourism, job opportunities and create more of a positive perception of cannabis.

“When you have sick people that need to use cannabis as a medicine, people will hesitate to use cannabis as a medicine because it still has a stigma,” Wells said. “The more that cannabis can become a part of people’s lives . . . people can build new relationships with it.”

Wells addeds that, if these laws are passed, Nevada will have to be the role model on legalizing open consumption spaces.

“It just takes responsible adults who use responsibly,” she said. “Proper ID checks, security when necessary and making sure people have safe spaces and safe transportation. But I don’t think that’s a reason to not pass said laws. We should take this seriously and make sure that we set a really positive example of how it can work out for the benefit of taxpayers and the state and tourists and everybody.”