Toke tourism

Making the best of things

Online entrepreneurs are working hard to turn pot into a tourist attraction.

Online entrepreneurs are working hard to turn pot into a tourist attraction.

Boozing’s OK. Toking, not so much.

In North Las Vegas this week, Nevada got its first union pot dispensary. Jenny’s workers affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers International.

During the 2016 election campaign, when Question Two dealing with legal marijuana was on the ballot, Genoa prohibitionist Jim Hartman sent a letter to the editor to newspapers around the state arguing that tourism would be hurt if Q2 was approved.

“The negative risks to the gaming industry for being in conflict with federal marijuana law caused the Nevada Resort Association to announce opposition to Q2 as well,” he wrote.

Of course, the Resort Association has long had a hair trigger on its panic button when it comes to threats to the industry, but, as it turns out, pot scaring away tourism is not really a threat. The tourists seem to be coming because of marijuana. The problem is that they pretty much can’t use marijuana in Nevada.

Question Two dealt with few ancillary issues because the immediate goal was to make marijuana legal. Other issues, it was felt, could be dealt with later. As a result, it allows people to toke up at home—and virtually nowhere else. For tourists, home is a long way away.

“If lounges had been included, that would have been another issue for opponents to attack, which would have made it harder to pass,” said Clark County Sen. Richard Segerblom this week. “And remember, after the session I obtained an LCB [Legislative Counsel Bureau] opinion that allows cities and counties to enact lounge ordinances under current law, so in reality there was no need to put lounges in the initiative.”

The problem is that an LCB opinion and a couple of bucks gets you a cup of coffee. It has little other value. Some municipal officials around the state are reluctant to vote for local laws just on the say-so of a legislative lawyer. Segerblom says southern Nevada governments are taking “baby steps.” An opinion from a district attorney or the state attorney general is more substantive—but all of them opposed Question Two.

“Yes, the city and county have both taken baby steps forward,” Segerblom said. “When [U.S. Attorney General] Jeff Sessions withdrew the Cole memo, everyone froze, but now things are starting to unthaw again. Also, the Paiute tribe [in] downtown Las Vegas is looking at something on their reservation.”

The Washoe County Commission discussed lounges but took no action. There was concern about toking and driving, which could be dealt with as bars are, but there seemed little desire to even study the issue. The Reno City Council has been more preoccupied with strip lounges and is considering prohibiting pot lounges until the Nevada Legislature acts further.

As a result, the publicity Nevada is getting is akin to this, in the New Orleans Times Picayune: “While it may be legal to stroll down parts of the Las Vegas Strip with your favorite adult beverage, the same doesn’t apply to pot. It’s prohibited in casinos, bars, restaurants, parks, concerts and on U.S. property, from national forests to federally subsidized housing.”

Prohibitionist Hartman told the Boston Globe he thinks lounges would bring more attention from the feds, but Donald Trump has made it clear he doesn’t want his appointees messing with state governments on the issue, and it would be a brave agency chief who went afoul of the state’s rights policy the wrath-prone Trump has laid down.

Hartman also said, “We [Nevada] think, ’We’ve done alcohol, we’ve done gambling, so marijuana will be a snap.’ There’s a certain level or arrogance here.”

In fact, Nevada has not “done” alcohol, in the sense of making it legal and avoiding its risks, any more than any other state. There are in excess of 250 Nevada drunken driving deaths most years. According to Referral Solutions Group, “One study found that marijuana increased the odds of being in car accident by 83 percent … but when alcohol was involved, the odds of being in a car accident increased more than 2,200 percent.” Thus, drivers’ switching from booze to pot would likely reduce deaths.

Colorado had, and has, similar problems with toking in public places, but it seemed not to interfere with marijuana tourism. In 2015, the Denver Post reported, “A study commissioned by the Colorado Tourism Office and presented to the office’s board of directors on Wednesday shows legal weed as a growing motivator for trips to Colorado—conflicting with the mantra of tourism officials statewide that savvy marketing alone is responsible for record visitation and spending in the past two years. … Twenty-two percent of survey respondents said marijuana was ’extremely influential’ in their decision to visit Colorado. Twenty percent said it was ’very much influential’ and nearly 7 percent said it was ’somewhat influential.’”

As the number of legal marijuana states grows, the novelty will dwindle, but, for the moment, there are only nine legal states and nothing to stop businesses from trying to lure tourists. “Heading to Burning Man or some beautiful rock climbing outside of Reno?” asks one tourist website. “Click here for information regarding marijuana laws and where to find recreational.”

One site tailors its pitch: “But thanks to Reno’s small scale, getting a taste of Nevada’s newly legal herb is a lot easier here than it is in sprawling Vegas. Reno is also a good place to start, because growers, processors and edibles makers from the Reno region supply the Vegas scene. … But for an exotic Lake Tahoe experience as colorful as anything Hoss and Little Joe encountered with gypsies on Bonanza, reserve a cannabis-friendly gypsy camping trailer wagon. Tow the wagon behind your vehicle from Reno or have it delivered to Zephyr Cove Resort’s RV Park and Campground on the South Shore. Check with the resort’s operators; they’ll tell you it’s OK for adults to smoke cannabis inside recreational vehicles and trailers parked on Zephyr Cove’s private property. Stay Hydrated—Think cottonmouth is bad? High desert air and mountain altitudes plus smoked or eaten cannabis can mean dehydration headaches, dizziness and muscle cramps. Drink eight, 8-oz glasses per day minimum.”

In typical advertising fashion, some sites try to put the best spin on things. This website also reads, “It’s technically illegal to smoke on Lake Tahoe, which is patrolled by the U.S. Coast Guard.” There’s nothing technical about it. It’s illegal. Period.

It’s fair to ask how long some of this “tourism” will last. Businesses that rely on tours of dispensaries are likely to find the novelty factor wears off fast—say, after one or two stops—and the seen-one-seen-them-all factor kicks in. After all, how many people go on smoke shop or liquor store tours?

In Colorado, marijuana attracted visitors, but once they were there, only eight percent actually visited a marijuana dispensary, so other sites—Pike’s Peak, Vail, the Rockies—likely benefited. That is a bright hope in Nevada.