BY ED MURRIETA
If Nevada state Sen. Tick Segerblom’s legislation prevails, what’s happened in Amsterdam for the past 50 years will become the future of cannabis tourism in Las Vegas and across the Silver State into the 21st century.
Once famously harsh on those who possess or sell marijuana — threatening 20 years in prison for the former and life sentences for the latter — Nevada has become America’s most progressive pro-pot state in the past three years.
Nevada voters approved medical cannabis in 2014 and adult-use recreational cannabis in 2016. This year, the Legislature is set to green-light recreational pot sales six months ahead of schedule and likely will give local governments the authority to allow public consumption of cannabis virtually everywhere except federally regulated casinos — in hotels, bars, restaurants, brothels and even on The Strip of Sin City itself.
Segerblom, a Las Vegas Democrat, spoke with us in a telephone call this week from his office in Carson City, where the bi-annual Legislature is in session until June. Here’s an edited transcript.
When can consumers expect recreational sales to start in Nevada?
We’re focused on the first of July. We’re not sure exactly how it’s gonna work but it’ll be basically like Oregon where the same marijuana is in the same building of an existing medical dispensary but just on a different tax rate.
Why the early push? Why not just wait until 2018 as the state’s recreational marijuana law provides for?
First off, the voters have spoken. It’s legal. We don’t want to create a black market where people can use it but they cannot buy it. Also, the governor put $100 million in his budget that he expects to obtain from recreational marijuana in the next two years. So we’ve got to get it out there and generate some tax revenue. And frankly, I’d like to get a jump on these other states. This is competition at this point. Nevada should be the center of marijuana tourism. I’ve been calling Las Vegas the Amsterdam of the West since 2013.
How did Nevada become so progressive toward pot? Into the 1970s, the state had very harsh pot penalties.
The politicians just started talking to the voters and the voters love marijuana. Politicians are scared of their shadows but we were able to overcome that. Fifty-five percent of the voters approved recreational marijuana last November. Now at this point the politicians can’t really stop it. So now the question is, do we try to do it right or put our heads in the sand? We ought to do it right.
What are the chances that both of your bills — early recreational sales and public consumption — will pass the Legislature?
At this point, the Democratic party is pretty united. We control both houses of the Legislature but we don’t control two-thirds. So we need two Republican senators and one Republican assemblyman. Otherwise, everyone agrees: The voters have spoken; let’s do it. We sell vices and addictive behaviors. Marijuana is just perfect with what we do.
Please describe your bill to allow public consumption.
Basically it’s going to say local governments can do whatever they want to do. They’ll be festivals, clubs, weddings, buses, horse-drawn carriages, destination resorts — whatever anyone can dream of. As long as you limit it to 21 and older, you can do anything you want with marijuana. The great thing about Nevada is that we don’t have a clean-air law like other states. So you can do it in restaurants and bars. You could block off a street and it could be like Amsterdam where you have cafes where you sit outside.
So the Fremont Street Experience could become Fremont Street Cannabis Experience?
That’s my goal. This is Nevada. We sell sin and vices and addictive behaviors. If you want to stay in Kansas, then stay in Kansas.
How does the gaming industry feel about this?
They’re very hands-off because of our state Gaming Commission and the federal government, which regulate casinos. They just want to watch and see. I know they don’t want to lose a lot of business so eventually they’re going to have to figure out a way to get involved. But they haven’t stopped it, which is good.
What about the Las Vegas tourism commission?
They haven’t said yay or nay but haven’t said no. But I think as soon as we get retail out there, you’re gonna see a huge publicity machine. Because that’s what we do. We sell vice. What better place to do it than Las Vegas?
What’s your take on High Times’ Cannabis Cup outside of Las Vegas this weekend in the wake of the federal government shutting down distribution and consumption of cannabis at the event?
They were obviously just a bit premature but they had the right idea. That’s where Nevada’s headed. That’s the kind of event we want to have in Nevada. Just push the envelope. That’s what we do. We’ll have 100,000 people coming in every night for three days in June for the Electric Daisy Carnival. Right now they can’t legally use marijuana but hopefully it won’t be long before they can. I anticipate the state will make a ton of money just from that weekend alone.
You’re the only lawmaker in America who has a cannabis strain named after him. What’s the deal with Segerblom Haze?
One of the growers said they had a strain they wanted to name after me. I said go for it. Everybody says they love it.
Have you tried Segerblom Haze?
It’s illegal for me to smoke it because I don’t have a medical marijuana card. But trust me, as soon as the first recreational dispensary is open, I’m going to be the first person there.