Cover Story: Move Over, Colorado; Nevada May Be the New Amsterdam
High rollers. Glitzy casinos. Feathered showgirls. And now, weed.
Las Vegas has long been a city of overindulgence. That little slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," exists for a reason. And that reason? Debauchery. Throw a little weed into the mix and it may just push that Vegas-bred stimulation into overdrive.
Not that legalization is a new subject in Nevada, mind you. When it comes to weed, the state has long been on board for medical use, with the state's voters electing to legalize medical marijuana way back in 2000. And Nevada doesn't only have medi-pot on the brain; a petition filed to legalize recreational pot as well is expected to pass by 2016, which will create a blanket legalization of the plant for the state.
But even with the legalization of medi-pot technically in place in Nevada, it wasn't until recently that the state saw any movement on the subject. The first place to set up regulations? Unincorporated Clark County, of course. It is, after all, where the Las Vegas strip is located. What would shiny casinos be without some shiny weed dispensaries to go along with them?
Las Vegas has mapped out an interesting way to deal with the rising interest in the cannabis industry. It's limiting the number of dispensary licenses offered in Clark County -- only ten are available -- with a similar amount available for grow operations, which will keep those dispensaries stocked with the green goods.
And as with anything else in Sin City, marijuana will be all about the almighty dollar. In order to own one of those ten licenses, you'd better be able to put up or shut up, to the tune of $250,000. And not only will prospective marijuana moguls have to prove those couple hundred thousand in liquid assets, but they'll also have to pony up the $35,000 in fees.
They'll have to be able to pass some pretty expensive background checks before Vegas will even let those checks clear, though. Applying and makin' it rain are only part of the equation. Not that those big ol' numbers -- nor those big ol' background checks -- are slowing things down, mind you.
With 109 applicants for Vegas's medical marijuana dispensary and grow house licenses already on the books, the business of recreational weed could get quite competitive in Las Vegas once it moves forward. Applicants are lining up for their shot at the medical marijuana industry, long before they're even allowed to open up shop.
And you're up for some stiff competition if you're from Nevada; those aren't all your fellow Nevada residents in that line, either. The state is welcoming applicants from out of state, so the race to the legal weed line is a national event for Nevada.
Yet even with all those hoops -- the competition, the liquid assets and the background checks -- the gamble may still pay off for those lucky enough to land a spot. Cannabis is often a labor of love in other states, where dispensaries and grow shops most often operate as nonprofits. But as with everything else in Sin City, weed is all about making money.
Las Vegas will operate its marijuana dispensaries, medical or otherwise, as for-profit businesses. Out-of-state medical marijuana patients will be able to purchase products from Nevada dispensaries merely by showing their medical marijuana card.
This will be the first time that the nation will witness "marijuana capitalism," and the projected profits for the Vegas area alone are staggering. With the popularity of Vegas as an adult tourist destination -- 39 million visitors flocked to the city in 2012 -- the addition of a pot industry makes total sense. According to Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, a California hydroponics company, Vegas could see $600 million to $1.5 billion in revenue on a yearly basis.
With that kind of dough rolling in, the possibilities of Sin City's cannabis industry are endless. Given time, and the right people running the show, legal pot could give gambling and nightlife in Vegas a run for their tourist-attracting money. Amsterdam would be struggling to compete.
The idea of Vegas as a tourist pot-stop is awesome, but with all this cannabis talk, we started thinking of other, less obvious places to host the nation's version of Amsterdam. Sure, Vegas makes sense, given its current tourist draw, but even still, it's perhaps a bit typical.
Surely there are other places to pinpoint as the next pot hot spot, right? Would Miami be a pot connoisseur's hot spot, or would the trendy nightclubs and the South Beach chaos be a bit overwhelming for the mellow indulger?
Or would it make more sense to have Hawaii come down with a bit of the reefer fever? After all, a bit of sunshine, a bit of surf and a whole lot of aloha would be good for the pot-lover's soul, would they not? Or would families shy away from the tourist haven, doing more damage than good?
We could always go outside the box and offer up some place in Oregon, where there are Birkenstocks and coastlines and scenic views of the mountains. But it's Oregon, and while it's beautiful, it's not exactly going to rival Amsterdam or Vegas as a marijuana mecca anytime soon.
There's always New Orleans, where life is about as welcoming as it gets and Bourbon Street is already as touristy as it gets, but there are some potential pitfalls. We'd hate to worry about the hot tip of a joint coming at our faces during Mardi Gras. It's bad enough during Jazz Fest, and those narrow Nola streets are way too packed for that kind of business.
But what about some place in Texas? Austin would make sense with its "Keep Austin Weird" slogan and that whole Eeyore parade and whatnot, but Texas is nowhere near legalizing weed. Or are we?
Welcome to the subject of our latest cover story, on the legalization movement in Texas. Light 'em up, y'all. It's going to be a bumpy ride.