Attitudes toward marijuana are changing: A recent Gallup poll indicated that 60 percent of Americans favor legalization, and the nine states voting on legalization (including medical or recreational) set a record high. And over the past two years, Nevada has developed a solid medical marijuana industry. The grows are the size of airline hangars, with thousands of plants in stark white rooms and computer screens monitoring CO2 levels and watering cycles. Dispensaries are minimalist boutiques, with dozens of products in glass cases and helpful staffers in polo shirts discussing the merits of various indica/sativa strains with each customer. All of it is government-regulated, from employee background checks to the pesticides. And, if Question 2 passes, it will all be available to anyone over 21.
“It’s obviously the fastest growing industry in the United States, and Nevada could really use the jobs it’s going to create,” says Leslie Bocksor, president of Electrum Partners, a firm that advises investors in the cannabis industry. Nevada has struggled to diversify beyond tourism, and a studyby RCG Economics and the Marijuana Policy Group suggests that legal marijuana could put more than $7.5 billion into the economy in seven years. Legal weed created more than 2,000 jobs in Oregon in 2016, and 18,000 in Colorado in 2015. It also boosted Colorado’s economy by $2.4 billion in 2015. If the Nevada initiative passes, Bocksor believes, “We will see Las Vegas and Nevada become one of the central locations for legal cannabis throughout the world.”
Legal weed could also boost tourism among millennials, who don’t quite share previous generations’ fascination with Vegas gaming tables—hence the barrage of big-budget nightclubs, celebrity chef restaurants, and swanky shopping malls. (When Colorado legalized marijuana, tourism to Denver alone increased by 1 million people.) Many of the 40 million visitors coming to Las Vegas every year are seeking thrills they can’t find at home. Walking into a store to peruse 100 different kinds of weed and edibles would certainly rank among them. Casinos themselves oppose Question 2—federal law says that casinos cannot directly benefit from the (federally illegal) marijuana industry. And if a casino can’t get a dollar out of it, a casino doesn’t want it around.
Billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has previously contributed to anti-marijuana efforts in several states, but this year, Question 2 brought the devil’s lettuce right to his marble doorstep. He responded by giving $2 million to Protecting Nevada’s Children, an organization that opposes the initiative. PNC spokesman Pat Hickey says, “Question 2 is a poorly-written big marijuana initiative that doesn’t restrict the production or advertising of child-friendly edibles. Legalization doesn’t result in drug dealers or the black market going away.” Adelson’s cash produced billboards and mailers about deceptive gummy bears and the hazards for kids who get into someone’s stash.
Those on the Yes On 2! side maintain that legalization and regulation actually offer protection for Nevada’s children. “As it stands right now, kids have access to pot,” says Brandon Wiegand, vice-president of special projects at the Grove medical marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas. “What Question 2 does is pushes it into a regulated market where we can restrict who has access to cannabis—right now, drug dealers don’t care if you’re of age or not.”
The Grove itself is a model of legal, 21st-century cannabusiness: A seed can enter its warehouse off the Vegas Strip and emerge a few months later as a delicious key lime teacake or handy disposable vape pen, and then be sold in one of its dispensaries a few miles away. Should Question 2 go through, tourists won’t be able to just pick up a pocketful of Super Blue Dream pre-rolls and a few grams of Thin Mint shatter from a Grove dispensary on November 9, as the state legislature still has to hammer out the details. (If it doesn’t pass, the curent medical marijuana program will continue.) Polling on the initiative leans pro-, but remains too close to call. But if Nevada does nix recreational marijuana and California and Arizona embrace it, Sin City will fall one major sin behind its neighbors.
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