Resorts see possibility of marijuana lounges as a dilemma

Hospitality industry leaders expressed mixed feelings about the prospect of marijuana lounges in Las Vegas, which on one hand would give guests a place legally consume and on the other compete with resorts for tourist dollars.

A panel including Andrew Pearl, general counsel and chief compliance officer for the Cosmopolitan, Melissa Kuipers Blake, a shareholder at Denver law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, and Melissa Waite, a member of the Dickinson Wright law firm in Las Vegas, discussed the issue Friday at a marijuana symposium at UNLV.

Tourists know it’s legal to buy pot in Las Vegas, but they often don’t realize it’s illegal to consume it in public spaces, including hotel-casinos, panelists said. People are often discovered using marijuana — either by smoking it or through edibles — in casinos, they said.

When informed of the law, most guests comply, and, overall, the use of marijuana causes far fewer problems than alcohol, Pearl said.

“We haven’t faced the sort of challenges with people being under the influence (of marijuana) certainly to the degree that alcohol does,” Pearl said. “If I tried to quantify the portion of our security incidents that are alcohol-related, it would be an extremely high percentage. I don’t think I can say the same thing about marijuana.”

With Nevada law only allowing for the lawful use of marijuana at private residences, tourists have nowhere to legally consume it. “We don’t have anywhere we can tell them where to use it, we just tell them where they can’t,” Waite said.

With the city considering approval of marijuana lounges as early as the end of the year, resorts could have a place to recommend guests go to consume the drug — which creates a solution and a dilemma for resort operators.

Initial proposals call for pot lounges to be located outside of casinos, as federal law and gaming regulations would need to be changed to allow them at resorts.

“Resort properties in general fight very hard ... for every dollar that consumers spend,” Pearl said. “I think there is a real tension within the industry and also fearing that this becomes another source of how consumers can spend their dollars, and it’s not at our resorts.”

But if pot lounges are approved, it could be a springboard for them to pop up in hotel-casinos if federal law and gaming regulations eventually change, Pearl said.

“This could become another amenity the Strip has to offer,” Pearl said. “Just like the nightclubs, just like the restaurants, they could have lounges that allow the consumption of marijuana, just like we allow the consumption of alcohol.”

“Then all you’re left with is the odor issue,” he said. “It’s quite important, because the smell of the smoked product is overpowering. That’s a real live problem in terms of allowing it inside the building, but I think we could sort that out either through edibles or technology, whatever it may be.”