After initially stating that there would be a ban on any marijuana usage in casinos and on casino grounds in Las Vegas, a meeting between government officials and Las Vegas casino honchos under the auspices of a resurrected committee on Wednesday examined the problems that are confronting the issue.
With the passage of laws in the Silver State that opened Nevada’s recreational marijuana industry in late 2016, there was one place that wasn’t open to marijuana – the casinos. In September, the Nevada Gaming Control Board issues a directive that firmly spelled out that, even though it was legal to purchase and consume marijuana in the state, doing so on casino grounds was still verboten. Citing the current legal status of marijuana (it is still considered a Schedule I drug by the U. S. Department of Justice and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions has looked to toughening laws rather than softening them), the NGCB didn’t flinch in making their decision to ban pot on casino grounds.
It wasn’t just the consumption of marijuana that the NGCB ruled on in September. The NGCB also ruled that there could be no marijuana dispensaries or “smoking zones” on casino grounds nor could a casino promote the product. Furthermore, the casino industry could not host any cannabis-related conventions nor could someone in the casino industry invest in the marijuana industry or vice versa.
The one thing that the NGCB didn’t do was codify any of their above directives into any concrete law that could be enforced. That’s where Sandoval stepped in, bringing back a long-defunct government group that would be able to hammer out some firm direction for the casino industry and the marijuana industry to coexist.
Sandoval has revived the Nevada Gaming Policy Committee, a 12-member group that was defunct prior to the Governor’s call to action. The NGPC had not met regarding any casino issues since November of 2016, but Sandoval felt that this was an issue that required the Committee to come together. On Wednesday, that committee met for the first time to discuss the issue and, after many voices were heard from, it became apparent the difficulties of resolving the marijuana issue for the casinos.
In the five-hour meeting featuring several prominent members of the casino industry and government officials from the Nevada General Assembly, it was constantly expressed that it was important to protect the licenses of the individual casinos. In trying to improve the marijuana industry, Sandoval himself stated that he “(didn’t) want to make a decision that puts (our) licenses at risk.” For marijuana advocates, the testimony given during the hearing wasn’t exactly helping their cause.
Several attorneys testified that, if the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug, then the casino industry in no manner could cohabitate with the marijuana industry. Attorney Brian Barnes stated that, under “virtually every aspect of federal law,” any marijuana business is illegal. Barnes said that any marijuana business in a casino “would be considered racketeering or money laundering.” Furthermore, any marijuana advocacy conference or convention – even if there wasn’t any product present – would fall under the same viewpoint.
This committee isn’t meeting to allow for usage of marijuana in a casino. What this committee seems more interested in would be allowing for either conventions regarding the industry or even dispensary sales on casino grounds. Nevada has 47 licensed marijuana dispensaries across the state, which drew in $27.1 million in sales in July 2017, the first month that those dispensaries were opened, and those types of earnings are something that everyone wants to get into. Also, the lifeblood of Vegas isn’t in its gaming, it’s in conventions across the myriad of halls that every casino has. By maintaining a ban on marijuana-related conventions, the Nevada convention industry is putting itself at a significant disadvantage and, once again, losing money.
The resurrected Nevada Gaming Policy Committee will be having several hearings regarding this issue. By July 2018, Sandoval is hoping to have guidelines set in place to regulate marijuana in the state’s casinos. While it isn’t expected to allow for partaking of the legal (in Nevada) product, it will probably allow for conventions and, perhaps, sales when the committee’s work is done.