Well known for its longstanding tradition of sanctioning and regulating the indulgence of activities almost universally considered “vices” (such as gambling, and even prostitution), Nevada now stands in a unique position on the frontlines of the state-level social experiment in marijuana decriminalization. Las Vegas—a mecca for tourists from around the world—has over forty-million annual visitorswho can now legally (at least under Nevada law) purchase up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational use. However, any consumption of that marijuana in a “public place,” retail marijuana store, or in a moving vehicle is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $600.
For Nevadans, this restriction on public consumption simply means that they must consume their recreational marijuana in the privacy of their residences. For Nevada’s tourists, however, this restriction presents a catch-22: Nevada’s tourists may lawfully purchase marijuana, but they have nowhere to lawfully consume it. “What happens in Vegas” will (inevitably) happen in Las Vegas, and Nevada law must adapt to provide for sensible and safe accommodations for tourists who want to lawfully consume a product that they may lawfully purchase. In the absence of such change, many tourists will inevitably consume marijuana unlawfully and unsafely. Ignoring this “elephant in the room” will not make it go away. The situation must be addressed directly.