Commentary - February 17, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, is Nevada's "Maharaja of Marijuana."

He was a driving force during the 2013 Legislature in setting up a distribution and taxing structure for medical marijuana in Nevada. And now that Nevada voters have approved recreational marijuana for those over 21, he's confident the state will collect millions for education through marijuana taxes.

Segerblom said on Nevada Newsmakers recently that much of his zeal for legal, recreational marijuana comes from his belief that it will do wonders for Nevada tourism, the state's No. 1 industry.

Recreational marijuana should be ready for sale in current dispensaries in June or July. Segerblom envisions thousands of tourists flocking to Las Vegas to see the lights of The Strip, attend concerts or fights and dine at great restaurants -- all the while being high as a kite.

Talk about enhancing the experience, wow.

But there's a rub to Segerblom's vision. Officially, the gaming industry wants nothing to do with marijuana.

More importantly, the Nevada Gaming Control Board wants the gaming industry to have nothing to do with marijuana.

So Tick has a conundrum. How can legal pot help Nevada tourism if it is frowned upon by Nevada's gaming industry?

"That's the problem," Segerblom said. "Eventually, we will get that right but right now, because of the federal rule, the hotels don't want anything to do with marijuana."

The Gaming Control Board won't let Nevada gaming officials invest in the seemingly-lucrative Nevada marijuana business because marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Its also the reason why the gamers don't want people smoking pot in hotel rooms or in the casino, Segerblom said, even though that stuff probably happens already.

"Of course it happens now," Segerblom said. "They are doing it in the hotel rooms, they are doing it on the casino floor, they are doing it in restaurants, bars. Very few people actually do marijuana with some kind of smoke. There're vapes, there are edibles, there are all kinds of ways. It is going on and it has been going on for years."

Yet because the Gaming Control Board's stance on marijuana an its illegal federal status, Segerblom worries how the gaming industry will view smoking Nevada's 'legal' pot at concerts in venues like T-Mobile Arena.

"The problem is that it is owned by MGM and if MGM says no, we can't do that. So we've got to find a way to divorce those two things so we can go T-Mobile (with pot) even though we can't do it in the casino itself."

Marijuana has another glaring problem if it going to be a boon for tourism. Tourists need a legal place to smoke it. The only place to legally smoke legal marijuana under Nevada's law is at your home.

Segerblom has at least a partial solution.

"I have a bill that addresses that (where you can legally smoke or vape marijuana). It says local governments can create venues outside of casinos where marijuana could be used," Segerblom said.

"It could be a social club. It could be a bar, it could be a street -- like a little Amsterdam street. It could be a concert, it could be a park, it could be a one-time event like Electric Daisy Carnival," Segerblom said.

"That is going to be up to local governments to decide how they are going to do that. But it is really important that we do offer people who come here a place to use marijuana because right now, it is illegal to use it, other than in your house."

He wants the resort industry to be part of the solution that allows for venues for tourists to legally smoke pot.

"I just want them (resorts) to be part of the process," he said. "Because at the end of the day, we don't want people who use it to leave the casinos and go somewhere else to use it. We don't want to lose that revenue. We want it to stay in the casino."

Getting high and having fun with recreational marijuana seems to go along with the "What Happens Here, Stays Here" attitude that has made Las Vegas such a popular international destination.

It's in the best interests of tourism that that state finds areas where tourists can freely ingest marijuana in their favorite ways, Segerblom said.

"What we do is we sell sex, we sell sin," he said. "We make things sound very exotic. So that is how we got gambling and that is how we've got everything we have."

"They are all addictive substances or addictive behaviors," he said. "This fits, in my mind just perfectly, our image of what we do and why people come here. So the fact that we would have this one industry (recreational marijuana) separate is kind of crazy.

"But we'll figure it out," Segerblom continued. "It is just going to take a few years. But the key right now to find somewhere where this activity can take place legally, until we get it all figured out and get it back into the hotels."