LAS VEGAS — Sin City has launched its latest legal vice.
Marijuana dispensaries in Las Vegas and other Nevada cities experienced long lines as they launched recreational pot sales on July 1. Some shops opened their doors at midnight.
But it won’t be a free-for-all in the place where many tourists think anything goes. Police say they have been preparing for months to enforce the law, putting a focus on keeping stoned drivers off the road but also cracking down on those who light up under the neon lights.
Voters approved the sale of recreational marijuana in November. Nevada is marking the fastest turnaround from the ballot box to retail sales of any of the seven other states and the District of Columbia where pot is legal.
Here’s a look at what’s expected from legal marijuana:
Where can people light up?
Only in a private home, including yards and porches. 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.
While anyone who is 21 with a valid ID can buy up to an ounce of pot or one-eighth of an ounce of edibles or concentrates, using it in public can get lead to a $600 ticket for a first offense.
What’s the big deal?
Industry experts predict Nevada’s market will be the nation’s biggest, at least until California plans to begin recreational sales in January.
Nevada sales should eventually exceed those in Colorado, Oregon and Washington state because of the more than 42 million tourists who annually visit Las Vegas. Regulators anticipate 63 percent of customers will be tourists.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything quite like what Nevada is going to look like just because of the sheer volume of tourism in the state,” said Nancy Whiteman, co-owner of the Colorado-based Wana Brands, which makes edible pot products.
However, there’s not a lot of mainstream promotion. The law bans marijuana advertising on radio, TV or any other medium where 30 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be younger than 21.
Why do hotel-casinos ban pot?
State gambling regulators have directed casinos to abide by federal law, which outlaws the drug. That means tourists will have a hard time finding a place to use it legally despite being the biggest expected piece of the market.
It’s one reason Whiteman and others think edibles will be most popular with visitors, who can eat the goodies almost anywhere without attracting attention, including casino floors where cigarettes are allowed but pot-smoking is not.
Could that change?
Legislation to establish marijuana clubs and other places to smoke pot failed this spring but will be revisited by lawmakers in 2019. State Sen. Tick Segerblom, a leader of the legalization push, anticipates worldwide advertising urging tourists to “come to Nevada and smoke pot — so we must provide a place to do so.”
One Denver-based entrepreneur already has set up cannabis-friendly condos just off the Las Vegas Strip that allow pot smoking but not cigarettes. There’s also a “Cannabus” tour that offers riders a peek inside dispensaries, a grow facility and a swag bag filled with rolling papers and other gifts.
Should buyers beware?
The drug’s potency is much higher than stuff sold on the streets a couple of decades ago. Edibles are the biggest concern because the effects can sneak up on pot newbies, who may take too much without realizing they are slowly getting high.
All packaged edibles, from gummies to brownies, must carry labels warning that the intoxicating effects may be delayed for two hours or more and that users should initially eat a small amount.
How are police preparing?
Some departments have been giving officers additional training on determining who might be impaired.
“It changes the dynamics of what we have to enforce and what we don’t in terms of marijuana,” Deputy Reno Police Chief Tom Robinson said. Previously, “police officers have been told to aggressively enforce marijuana laws. Now, we’ve got to change our stance, which isn’t a big deal, it’s just a mind-set shift for our personnel.”
Follow Regina Garcia Cano on Twitter at @reginagarciakNO.
A cashier rings up a marijuana sale at the Essence cannabis dispensary, Saturday, July 1, 2017, in Las Vegas. Nevada dispensaries were legally allowed to sell recreational marijuana starting at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. (John Locher, The Associated Press)