Nevada Newsmakers

News - February 8, 2023 - by Ray Hagar

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The 2021 Nevada Legislature approved marijuana consumption lounges, which are designed mostly for tourists who had no legal place to smoke weed, although they could legally buy it in Nevada.

While the lounges are expected to sprout and prosper this year in Las Vegas, don't expect them in Sparks because the Northern Nevada city doesn't want them, Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson said recently on Nevada Newsmakers.

For starters, Lawson is afraid Sparks' public safety officers -- including police and fire personnel -- could passively ingest marijuana smoke or have it seep into skin or hair if they are called to an incident or accident at a consumption lounge.

It could then be an issue if those city employees were then to be subjected an on-the-job random drug test, Lawson said.

"I'm going to approach it from the public safety standpoint," Lawson told host Sam Shad. "We know that things happen at bars. A consumption lounge is nothing more than a just a bar that specializes in smoking marijuana.

"So if we have a fight, a medical emergency, anything that happens and our officers and fire personnel go into one to rescue someone, and if they are spending any amount of time (in the lounge) and then the next day, it comes up on a random drug test that they have marijuana (in their system), because they absorbed it through their skin, hair or however else, even inhaling it while they are in the lounge, then how do I deal with that?" Lawson said.

"We don't want to discourage drug testing for our safety personnel because they need to operate at their best level and I just don't see the benefits outweighing the risks," Lawson said.

Sparks' "City Administrative Rules prohibit the use of drugs as defined under state or federal law, including marijuana," Julie Duewel, the city's community relations manager, wrote in an email.

However, Sparks will comply with the recent Nevada Supreme Court decision in regarding accommodating the medical use of marijuana, she added.

Sparks limits random drug and alcohol testing to employees who hold a commercial driver’s license as required by their job description or by their department director, Duewel wrote. This could include police and fire personnel, she added.

Lawson, however, won't have to deal with any issues from marijuana consumption lounges anytime soon because no one in Sparks was awarded a lounge license, according to Nevada's Cannabis Compliance Board.

In fact, in all of Washoe County, only one business -- in Washoe Valley -- was awarded a CCB license for a consumption lounge, according to Nevada CCB documents.

Marijuana consumption lounges, Nevada CCB documents show, are mostly a Clark County phenomena.

"Las Vegas will show them how to do it and Washoe and Sparks and Reno can figure out what they want to do," said Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who was instrumental in pushing marijuana laws through the Legislature when he was a state senator.

"It is inevitable but some people are still living in the dark ages," Segerblom added.

Segerblom was also dismissive of Lawson's logic on the lounges.

"First off, just because you test positive for marijuana doesn't mean anything," Segerblom said. "The reality is that it is like alcohol, like cigarettes, that it is something that people can take legally. If you test positive, that is not illegal. They say that police officers are not allowed to smoke marijuana, they probably are (smoking it), which is crazy."

Eventually, Washoe County will realize that consumption lounges will help tourism, Sergerblom said. Although it is legal to buy and sell marijuana products in Nevada, the only legal place to smoke it or consume it before the consumption-lounge legislation was in a home.

"The fact is, it is going to take some time," Segerblom said. "But tourism is going to be more and more based on, not just gaming, but entertainment and food and then people want to use marijuana with that.

"And then, all of a sudden you say, 'Oh, by the way, you can't use it -- even though you just bought it -- because there is no place legally to use it for tourists," Segerblom added. "It doesn't add up."

The Sparks Police Department is not looking to arrest people for smoking marijuana unless it's really obvious, Lawson said.

"There are so many things to enforce...(but) if you are doing it in public in the Rib Cook-off or something like that, sure," Lawson said.

Segerblom noted that one of the biggest international events in Washoe County takes place in a haze of marijuana consumption.

"Hello! Burning Man! Has anybody been to Burning Man?" Segerblom asked, referring to the alternative lifestyle and arts festival held on the Black Rock desert annually in northern Washoe County.

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