Recreational cannabis comes to Las Vegas

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Customers lined up outside Essence Cannabis Dispensary's Strip location on June 30 to be first to purchase recreational marijuana when the clock struck midnight.
Customers lined up outside Essence Cannabis Dispensary's Strip location on June 30 to be first to purchase recreational marijuana when the clock struck midnight. Photo Credit: Edison Graff/Stardust Fallout
Sarah Feldberg
Sarah Feldberg

Add another vice to your list of permissible Las Vegas sins: marijuana, which became legal to be sold recreationally in Nevada as of 12:01 a.m. on July 1.

Last November, a ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis for adults ages 21 and older passed by nine percentage points. While it's been legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana since Jan. 1, Nevada wasted little time in creating the regulatory framework that would also allow recreational sales, and to start raking in the tax dollars they bring. 

According to the Associated Press, 44 dispensaries across the state had received the required permits to begin recreational sales as of June 30, with 39 of them in Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County.

Armen Yemenidjian is CEO of Essence Cannabis Dispensary, which has three locations in the Vegas Valley on West Tropicana Avenue, Las Vegas Boulevard just north of Sahara Avenue and in Henderson, where local officials have implemented a six-month moratorium on recreational licenses.

Customers began lining up outside the Las Vegas Boulevard outpost of Essence, the sole dispensary on the Strip, around 7 p.m., he said. No one got anxious or rowdy during the long wait for midnight. "Everyone in line was extremely excited. Everyone was so nice to each other," Yemenidjian said. "I was at the Strip [location in the early morning of July 1]," Yemenidijan said. "It was amazing. There were lines outside."

Over the course of that first weekend, Yemenidijan said, thousands of people stopped by Essence to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana or an eighth of an ounce of cannabis concentrate. The menu at the dispensary includes a wide range of strains as well as concentrates and edible products infused with cannabis such as cookies, gummy candies and even beef jerky. Recreational sales are subject to a 10% sales tax not levied on medical users, while other taxes are built into the retail price.

When guests come into one of Essence's locations, the CEO said, "The first thing we do is ask them if they've ever consumed cannabis before. It's up to us to make sure we find the right product for that customer. It's just a matter of asking the right questions and making sure we identify the right product for them."

Most of the customers at the company's Strip dispensary over the first weekend post-prohibition were tourists, and out-of-town visitors are expected to account for a large portion of recreational sales in Las Vegas.

However, as in other states with recreational cannabis on the books, public consumption is still illegal, and that includes casinos, hotel rooms and the Strip itself. Get caught puffing in public, and you could face a $600 fine.

"We have a notification card that we give out," said Yemenidjian of how Essence educates visitors on use of recreational cannabis. "In addition, we just tell them that they cannot consume the product in a casino."

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