LAS VEGAS — Starting early next year, tourists with a medical marijuana card from their home state can buy cannabis while visiting Las Vegas and other Nevada cities.
A handful of other states offer similar reciprocity, including Rhode Island and Maine, but Nevada is the first major tourist-destination state to honor other states’ systems, industry experts say. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimates that nearly 40 million people visit Sin City annually.
“It is a city of recreation, the city that invented the $5,000 bottle of vodka,” said Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, which has secured eight Nevada dispensary licenses. “It’s the adult playground in the United States. That’s Las Vegas’ model.”
The decision by state lawmakers to let tourists buy pot legally while visiting Nevada further opens the doors to marijuana tourism across the country.
Colorado and Washington state already allow anyone to buy small amounts of marijuana, and at least one study has shown tourism interest in Colorado has skyrocketed since recreational sales began Jan. 1. Alaska and Oregon in the fall election legalized recreational marijuana sales and use, and Washington, D.C., legalized possession.
“I think it’s going to be fantastic for the industry and the visitors,” said Leslie Bocskor, a marijuana investor and founding chairman of the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association. “It’s a step to treat this just a little more reasonably, to deal with it in a way that makes common sense.”
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have versions of medical marijuana programs, under which people with a doctor’s recommendation can buy pot to relieve conditions ranging from chronic pain to glaucoma and HIV/AIDS.
Knowing exactly how many Americans have medical marijuana cards is difficult: Some states, including California and Oregon, lack a centralized database of users.
Colorado maintains precise numbers, however, with more than 115,000 people possessing medical marijuana cards. Of those, 66% are men, the average age is 42, and 94% of users list severe pain as their reason for using marijuana, according to state statistics.
All of those people, however, are violating federal law. And it remains illegal to take marijuana outside the state in which it was bought. In Colorado, TSA security screeners don’t specifically look for marijuana, but they will prompt flyers to throw it away if they find it in carry-on bags.
Nevada’s law specifies that anyone who presents a medical marijuana card or recommendation will be allowed to buy marijuana, but lacks any sort of centralized tracking system to check the card’s validity. Nevada this fall began issuing licenses to its first medical marijuana stores, which are expected to open sometime in the spring.
Industry workers say adults should be trusted to make their own decisions — after all, no one on the Vegas strip checks a central federal database before selling alcohol to people from other states.
“A lot of people who are traveling, they may not want to fly with their meds, so there’s an attractiveness to the reciprocity,” Peterson said. “I don’t know it will drive traffic that much, but it’s a darn good excuse.”