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Sheriff offers support for marijuana consumption lounges with caveat — no alcohol

Jackie Valley
Jackie Valley
Criminal JusticeMarijuana
Sheriff Joe Lombardo at a podium with the American flag behind him

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo told an industry group Thursday that he supports the creation of marijuana consumption lounges as long as they don’t also include alcohol sales.

His comment came as he provided insight from the law enforcement side during a Las Vegas Medical Marijuana Association luncheon. Nevada’s legalization of recreational marijuana did not eliminate the black market for the drug, Lombardo said, but it also hasn’t led to significant crime increases, including impaired driving.

Legalization, though, has created a Catch-22 for tourists because marijuana can’t be consumed in public, rendering places such as casinos, hotel rooms and parks off limits. That’s why Lombardo said he supports efforts to create public consumption lounges — with that caveat that they don’t sell alcohol.

Pairing the two in the same establishment, he said, would increase the likelihood for bad decisions, including driving under the influence.

“You’re making it [doubly] hard for the human nature to take control and show that sense of responsibility,” he said.

The Clark County Commission tabled a planned discussion about marijuana consumption lounges last month. Commissioner Tick Segerblom said he thought it would be better to let the governor-created Cannabis Compliance Board, which meets again Friday, do its work first.

Lombardo said violent crime in Metro Police’s jurisdiction dropped by 9 percent last year compared with 2017. Property crime decreased by 4 percent.

The two-term sheriff said he was particularly relieved that impaired driving-related fatalities also fell 3 percent last year despite the proliferation of marijuana. Although Lombardo said that number is trending in the “right direction,” he also said marijuana-related DUIs remain his primary worry with the booming industry.

Fatal accidents that involved at-fault drivers with some amount of marijuana in their system increased 22 percent in 2017 compared with 2016, Lombardo said. That number remained flat the following year.

Lombardo didn’t delve into the debate over what the legal threshold should be, saying he’s not familiar with the science. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can stay in a person’s system for weeks after use.

“That is my concern — people driving under the influence with a 6,000-pound weapon and their motor skills are affected by what they choose to put in their body,” he said.

Nevada voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in the 2016 election, and recreational sales began July 1, 2017. The legalization and regulation of the industry hasn’t stopped illegal sales on the black market, though.

“That’s sad because that was part of the push for the industry — that it would curtail the black market,” Lombardo said. “The proof is in the pudding. It hasn’t done that.”

The sheriff said taxes on legal marijuana may be playing a role, given the cheaper cost of procuring the drug on the streets. Retail marijuana is subject to taxes: The cultivator pays a 15 percent excise tax on the wholesale sale; dispensaries pay a 10 percent excise tax on the retail sale; and there’s a retail sale tax at the local rate.

Lombardo struck a positive tone at the luncheon, saying the “adversarial relationship” between the marijuana industry and law enforcement has gone away. But he left members with this plea as the business grows and innovates: “Crawl before you walk before you run in that space.”


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