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Social Cannabis Use Gains in Denver and Alaska as Nevada Lags Behind

Old-style volcano vaporizers are popular at Magnolia Wellness' consumption lounge

Despite the legalization of marijuana in a number of states, one stubborn obstacle remains: There is no equivalent of bars where people can use it socially. While Colorado and Oregon have become destinations for cannabis consumers, no state allows marijuana lounges. The situation leaves tourists, who eagerly visit pot shops but have no place to light up, in a bit of a bind. It’s also problematic for state residents who live in public housing or don’t have 420-friendly landlords.

That may be starting to change. Denver voters approved a ballot initiative last November that creates a cannabis-consumption pilot program, the first of its kind in the nation. City officials began accepting applications from businesses for social-use licenses in August.

The regulations exclude cannabis dispensaries and any business that has a liquor license. That leaves locations like cafés and art galleries, but only those that are not within 1,000 feet of a school, child-care facility or drug-treatment center.

That 1,000-foot rule is a particular sticking point among advocates, who are considering suing the city over its restrictions. “Distance restrictions make it such that these social-use businesses can only establish themselves in the very neighborhoods that the City Council deemed too concentrated with cannabis businesses last year,” Kayvan Khaltabari, one of the drafters of the initiative, said in a letter to city officials in August.

Meanwhile, Alaska could become the first state to implement social-use regulations. The state Marijuana Control Board drafted a proposal that would let cannabis stores have on-site consumption areas. The proposed rules, unlike Denver’s, would allow consumers to buy and smoke in the same establishment. Regulators are seeking public comment on them until Oct. 27.

Nevada just rolled out recreational sales on July 1, and social use has already become a prominent topic of debate. With more than 40 million tourists visiting the state each year, the lack of cannabis consumption areas is a particular headache for visitors.

“We’re saying, ‘Come to Las Vegas, because you can buy recreational marijuana,’ but you can’t use it in your hotel room, on the Strip or at a concert,” state Senator Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) at a cannabis-law event in Denver in July. “But they do.”

Segerblom’s Senate Bill 236, which would allow cities to authorize cannabis consumption at special events, was passed by the Senate earlier this year, but it died in the Assembly.

On Aug. 24, the Nevada Gaming Commission voted to discourage casinos from hosting cannabis trade shows, such as the MJ Biz Conference that’s scheduled for Nov. 15-17. The event, previously held at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, has been moved to the Las Vegas Convention Center.


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