Cannabis lounges provide a new lure for Las Vegas visitors

Home » Cannabis lounges provide a new lure for Las Vegas visitors

A family reunion during the first weekend of April brought San Francisco resident Justin Price and his sister Jen Price of Jacksonville, Florida, to Las Vegas.

After family members departed, the siblings ventured from their rooms at the Waldorf Astoria to visit other Las Vegas attractions, including the newly opened Dazed! cannabis consumption lounge inside the Planet 13 dispensary in an industrial area just west of the Strip.

“We like to smoke and it’s nice to have a place to sit and relax,” Jason Price said.

“I don’t drink and you just don’t want to sit out on the Strip and smoke. Our Uber driver suggested this location.”

They visited the nearby Area 15 entertainment district before heading over to Planet 13. Lounge specialist Manny Gonzales brought out their order of different cannabis flowers — commonly referred to as buds — and a bong. 

“We had an awesome day,” Jen Price said. “This is a place that would bring us back to Las Vegas.”

A few days earlier, co-workers William Pridgen and Angie Ribera clocked off their jobs in the main kitchen at Fontainebleau Las Vegas and visited Smoke and Mirrors inside the Thrive Cannabis Dispensary, which is across the street from a back entrance to Resorts World Las Vegas.

The consumption lounge opened at the end of February and the friends were curious about the location, where they were able to legally take a few bong hits and sample cannabis-infused mocktails, despite a state law that otherwise prevents any public consumption of cannabis outside a private home and a federal government that still considers marijuana an illegal drug. 

Backers say the lounge concept is still a natural fit for the hospitality-driven economy of Nevada. 

“I’ve been a cannabis partaker for years due to injuries during my military service,” said Pridgen, who uses cannabis to relax. “I think this business will do well in Las Vegas.”

Cannabis consumption lounges were legalized through AB341 in 2021, five years after voters authorized the recreational use of marijuana in 2016. While dispensaries flourished — there are more than 100 retail cannabis stores throughout the state, according to the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board (CCB) — the lounges needed extra time to ensure they met state regulations. 

Dazed! and Smoke and Mirrors are the first two CCB-regulated lounges to open. Another 38 lounges are in various stages of consideration, making it unclear when more competition will arrive.

James Humm, who was appointed the CCB’s executive director last December by Gov. Joe Lombardo, said launching a relatively new industry required clearing several hurdles, such as establishing operating procedures. Regulation 15 alone has nearly two dozen subsections that operators must adhere to. 

The lounges are attached to dispensaries but customers can’t consume what they purchase in the store on the premises, just what they buy in the lounge. Planet 13 offers self-serve lockers for customers to store their purchased cannabis while in the lounge. Thrive has a separate entrance apart from Smoke and Mirrors.

Customers cannot take home any unfinished cannabis products purchased for use in the lounges. Those purchases are taxed at 10 percent, similar to purchases at dispensaries.

Humm, who previously worked in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said the state is allowing the cannabis industry to grow and the lounges add another dimension to an industry that is not even a decade old.

Christopher LaPorte, managing partner of RESET, a cannabis consulting firm that helped Thrive develop Smoke and Mirrors, said the company spent several years researching different business models to figure out one that worked for Las Vegas. 

Operators in the cannabis industry — both in the dispensaries and consumption lounges — record their customers’ IDs so they have visitor demographics. The locations are also required to verify that the customer is 21 or older and has a daily purchase limit of 2.5 ounces of cannabis. 

The CCB said the information is kept by the business owner and there is no requirement to share it with regulators. 

LaPorte said Smoke and Mirrors’ clientele has been 60 percent tourists and 40 percent locals. Planet 13 co-CEO Bob Groesbeck said the business attracts roughly 80 percent of its customers from the nearby Strip. 

The lounges offer two ways to consume cannabis: smoking — either through prerolled paper cannabis cigarettes or “joints,” or utilizing bongs, pipes and vaping devices for different strains of cannabis flowers — and in nonalcoholic mocktails that can be infused with anywhere from 2.5 milligrams to 5 milligrams of cannabis oil. Cannabis-infused food is not on either location’s menu.

“Everyone has their vision of what cannabis culture is and what cannabis hospitality is going to be,” LaPorte said. “We had like a hunch that drinks were going to be a big deal.” 

He said 70 percent of Smoke and Mirrors business has been cannabis-infused drinks.

The lounges differ tremendously in style and menu options. 

Smoke and Mirrors has eight mocktail choices ranging from $15 for non-infused and $19 or $23 based on the level of infusion. Nonalcoholic beers are $5 and $9 when infused, while coffee selections range from $3.50 (non-infused) to $9.50 (infused). Customers can select from almost three dozen ways to smoke eight different cannabis flowers with prices ranging from $20 to $75.

Dazed! selections include cannabis mocktails at $13 to $18 and 14 strains of cannabis from $20 to $55. The lounge also offers pairings of smokable cannabis and infused mocktails from $40 to $100, and a “Dazed and Blazed Buffet” at $125 for two infused cocktails, a large serving of flower with a bong for smoking and two infused beverages.

“We competitively priced,” said Christopher Stickney, general manager of Dazed!. The lounge provides prerolled joints but plans to add a designated “roller” who can create cannabis cigarettes tableside.

Stickney said the mocktails have been well received by customers, especially among new users of cannabis because of the low dose in the drinks. 

Though cannabis smoke constantly billows about, LaPorte said the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems used in the lounges removes the smoke and “are more powerful than ones utilized by the casinos,” allowing employees to remain sober and avoid the effects of secondhand smoke. The systems also minimize cannabis odor in the building.

A sports bar for cannabis

Smoke and Mirrors is part of a large dispensary — one of seven in Nevada operated by Thrive — but it has an entrance separate from the retail area. The space has dark features with a few windows allowing in some natural light. Seating areas with sofas and oversized chairs are accented with artwork and televisions tuned to sporting events. 

During the recent NCAA basketball tournaments, LaPorte said Smoke and Mirrors resembled a sports bar, except with fans indulging in cannabis while watching the games.

“I would love to look at the geolocation for mobile sports betting during that time and see how many bets were made from here,” LaPorte said. “Guys were pulling out their phones and making bets.”

Smoke and Mirrors does not have a restaurant but the business offers its parking lot up to food trucks Thursday through Sunday. LaPorte said the business is exploring different ways to enhance its offerings, including providing food to its guests. 

Initially, the food would not be infused with cannabis, but that option also is being explored, he said.

“On the infusion side, it might be something like chicken wings, and the ranch and blue cheese dipping sauces are infused with cannabis,” LaPorte said. 

To address concerns about customers driving under the influence, Dazed! and Smoke and Mirrors offer guests different means of transportation to and from their locations. Planet 13 has shuttle buses to and from Strip resorts and dedicated rideshare and taxi lanes. This type of service was part of the overall policy discussion when the Legislature was considering cannabis lounge legalization.

LaPorte said Smoke and Mirrors has a policy of not towing cars for 24 hours so that guests who drive themselves to Thrive understand they can find a rideshare or taxi home without worrying about leaving their cars overnight. 

A cannabis mall

Dazed! opened April 5 and is part of the high-energy Planet 13 complex that resembles a shopping mall for all things cannabis. In addition to the consumption lounge, the location has a dispensary with a multitude of cannabis products, clothing, smoking accessories and novelty items. 

The 120,000-square-foot building includes a non-cannabis restaurant and an entertainment venue. A kitchen area behind a giant window allows visitors to watch the production of cannabis-infused edibles — think of a smaller version of the self-guided tour at the Ethel M Chocolates Factory in Henderson. A tattoo parlor will be added to the facility.

“In my wildest dreams, I didn’t see things grow and evolve as it has,” said Groesbeck, a longtime Southern Nevada attorney who was mayor of Henderson for a term in the 1990s and describes himself as a “shareholder” in Planet 13. The chain has a second Las Vegas dispensary on Sunset Road, and dispensaries in Santa Ana, California, and Waukegan, Illinois. The company is planning additional locations in Florida. 

The entrance to Dazed! Is hidden by a replica London phone booth. Push back on the false wall inside the booth where the phone hangs and you enter a colorful location with bright lights, a high ceiling, private seating areas and mounted televisions. The space seats as many as 90 visitors.

Stickney said the lounge will add a dining element where customers can scan a QR code at their table and order food from Planet 13’s restaurant. A server will deliver the order to their table in the lounge.

Stickney said Planet 13’s restaurant will soon be replaced by an offshoot of Breakfast Junkies, a Henderson-based eatery.

“You can just order and pay for it right there, separate from your cannabis tab,” Stickney said. “We think that will become very popular with our customers. We’re trying to break any of the stigmas around cannabis.”

Cannabis and gaming can’t mix

The early results from the lounges are welcome news to Clark County Commission Chairman Tick Segerblom. As a state senator, he led a delegation of Nevada lawmakers to San Francisco on a field trip to visit the heart of California’s growing cannabis business. Several of the locations included consumption lounges.

“Some of the ones we visited are right next to the Moscone Center,” Segerblom said of San Francisco’s large conference and convention facility. “Their customers were nearby residents or would come down from the high-rises for the lunch hour, enjoy and go back to work. We knew this business would do well in Las Vegas and Nevada.”

Segerblom has been credited for spearheading the cannabis legalization push, showing up at Thrive’s ribbon-cutting and lighting up a joint with one of the company’s managers to celebrate the occasion. Thrive even offers a daiquiri-inspired mocktail under Segerblom’s nickname coined by the cannabis industry, “The Godfather.”

“This is the future of Las Vegas,” Segerblom said of the cannabis industry. “Why wouldn’t we include that as part of what we offer? It goes great with food and entertainment.” 

One other Las Vegas cannabis consumption lounge is operated downtown by the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. Because the location is on sovereign land, the businesses do not have to follow the CCB’s regulations. The NuWu dispensary opened in 2019, followed by the SkyHigh consumption lounge, which opened last year.

Segerblom addressed one of the larger unknowns concerning the cannabis industry — what happens if the gaming industry gets involved in the cannabis world?

Because the federal government continues to include marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic, lumping it into the same category of controlled substances that includes heroin, ecstasy and LSD, the gaming industry has remained hands-off from the cannabis world, which is keeping dispensaries and consumption lounges out of casinos. That stance was affirmed by Nevada’s Gaming Policy Committee in 2018. 

As with all cannabis businesses, the consumption lounge must be at least 1,000 feet from all public or private schools, 300 feet from all community facilities and 1,500 feet from large casinos. Thrive, which is close to Resorts World, was granted an exception to the buffer requirement because it shares a parking lot with Sapphire, Las Vegas’ largest adult nightclub and topless lounge, which was previously approved through a lawsuit.

Around the nation, several tribes have created grow houses or dispensaries for medical marijuana, but there is no mixing with casino operations.

At the same time, recreational cannabis is legal in 24 states, Washington, D.C., and three U.S. territories.

Segerblom envisions federal authorities removing the Schedule I designation from cannabis, which would allow the casino industry to get involved.

“The next big fight is going to be over who owns dispensaries and lounges in the hotels?” Segerblom said. “I think they should be required to partner or use an existing dispensary as opposed to themselves.”

LaPorte said it’s a matter of time before the gaming and cannabis industries converge.

“The idea that gambling and cannabis don’t mix is as antiquated as, you know, ‘Reefer Madness,’” he said of the 1936 propaganda film about what happens to high school students who try marijuana.

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