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Nevada is now the fifth state where adults can legally purchase marijuana. Sales are booming as tourists catch on. But after they buy it, where can they go? NPR's Nathan Rott reports it's a tricky situation, and some in the pot business are calling for an unprecedented solution.
NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: I say Las Vegas. You think...
(SOUNDBITE OF CASINO AMBIENCE)
ROTT: It's unavoidable. For most non-Nevadans, the city is synonymous with the in-your-face entertainment of the Las Vegas Strip. It's casinos and slot machines, big, glitzy hotels and showy stage acts. It's that Vegas that attracts about 40 million tourists every year, and it's that Vegas that isn't entirely sure what to do with this one.
XOCHI QUETZAL: Hello. Welcome to Essence.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: How's it going?
QUETZAL: How are you guys doing today?
ROTT: Essence Cannabis Dispensary is one of the new recreational marijuana dispensaries in Las Vegas, and it's busy. Resident bud-tender Xochi Quetzal is helping two tourists from Ohio.
QUETZAL: Something with edibles?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I've never done it.
ROTT: Recreational marijuana means that anyone with an ID over the age of 21 is free to purchase the products here. But under current Nevada law, they can only smoke or ingest it at their private residence. Hotel rooms don't count. Casinos won't allow it on their premises because it's still illegal federally, and they'd risk losing their gaming licenses.
QUETZAL: You can't just, you know, light up on public streets, you know? You can't just walk out here and just, you know, openly smoke.
ROTT: Or risk a $600 ticket. So if those tourists want to take part in the city's newest state-legal market, they have to be creative - buying edibles like those guys from Ohio, scentless vape pens. Or you just straight break the law.
Outside of Essence on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip, three women head towards a shuttle van with their purchases in hand. They're visiting from Indiana, staying at the Wynn Resort. And one of the women, Envy Rose, says the hotel makes it pretty clear.
ENVY ROSE: They have it posted on the outside. You can't bring it in.
ROTT: Their rental car company told them they can't smoke in the car either.
So, like, what do you do?
ROSE: Smoke in the rental car anyway and just hope (laughter) they're not inclined to - OK.
ARMEN YEMENIDJIAN: From a business perspective, it's handcuffing us as a business because of that exact issue.
ROTT: Armen Yemenidjian is the owner of Essence.
YEMENIDJIAN: Who else can sell a product that no one can use anywhere?
ROTT: This is a question that all of the dispensary owners here are wrestling with, so they're pushing for a solution - consumption lounges, Amsterdam-like places where people can smoke, eat, vape or otherwise ingest marijuana without breaking state law. Andrew Jolley is the head of the Nevada Dispensary Association. Here he is inside his own bustling business.
ANDREW JOLLEY: I think we should just get real and talk about it - the realities of the world we live in. And that is, if you're going to ban cannabis on the strip and in gaming properties, you need to provide a place for people to use it where they don't have to look over their shoulder.
ROTT: This is an issue that's not limited to Las Vegas. Recreational marijuana sales are ongoing in five U.S. states, but none has designated public places for people to consume it. Denver voters approved a plan for social consumption lounges, but none have opened yet. A bill was proposed in Nevada to allow for such lounges in the last legislative session, but that bill failed.
Tick Segerblom, a state senator, isn't giving up, though. He believes that the current state law allows local governments to issue consumption lounge licenses, and he's asked for a legal opinion to back him up. Timing is important, Segerblom says. Las Vegas is Sin City.
TICK SEGERBLOM: We know how to capitalize on things that other states won't allow.
ROTT: And with more states legalizing recreational marijuana, three including California set to roll out sales in the new year, he believes there's a small window for the city to establish itself as the go-to destination for cannabis consumers nationwide. Nathan Rott, NPR News, Las Vegas.
(SOUNDBITE OF DJ VADIM AND HEIDI VOGEL SONG, "VAH VAOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.