Recreational Cannabis, Vegas-Style

Recreational Cannabis, Vegas-Style

Senator Tick Segerblom smells his namesake strain at Reef Dispensaries, July 1, 2017. (Photo: Hew Burney)

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Drawn by the lure of history in the making, I jumped in the car late Friday and drove to Las Vegas, arriving a few hours before the magic hour of midnight, when dispensaries could legally start selling cannabis to anyone 21 and over. Lines had begun forming hours earlier, of course. By 10:30 p.m., when Hew, our Las Vegas-based photographer and I pulled up at Reef – the popular 5,000 square foot dispensary located inside the company’s ginormous 165,000 square foot cultivation and production facility a stone’s throw from the world famous Spearmint Rhino – several hundred non-patients were already in line and waiting to get in.

The scene was festive. Reef Dispensaries, aka Tryke Companies, had been preparing for Day 1 for a long time. Food trucks were called in, Wiz Khalifa was a rumored show, and Nevada State Senator Tick Segerblom, an ardent cannabis advocate and champion for legalization in the state, was on-hand to be the first person to legally purchase weed at Reef, and maybe anywhere in Nevada. Word was he was going to purchase some of his own strain, Segerblom Haze, a THC-heavy Sativa created last year by a local grower in honor of the senator’s support of the industry.

Matthew Morgan, the 31-year-old chief executive of Reef/Tryke, looked like a sea of calm as the clock ticked down to midnight and the swirl of excitement intensified around him. With six dispensaries now in Nevada and Arizona, Morgan and his partners are riding a wave that has them looking confidently at expanding into other states, including California. But nothing will be quite like Las Vegas, where, like everything else in town, cannabis shops can stay open 24 hours a day.

By quarter to midnight, it felt as though all of Vegas media had descended on Reef to capture the state’s first legal recreational cannabis sale to Segerblom, who ably reduced the moment to its essence. “It’s very exciting to see this come to Nevada because it’s perfect for what we do here,” said the Democrat. “We’re the entertainment capital of the world. We’re going to be Amsterdam on steroids. We take a little thing like what they do, or even Denver, and we do it big. That’s what we’re going to do here, as you can see already. Discover Nevada, buy the marijuana, and have fun!”

Prohibited

Finally, the time had come. Surrounded by a gaggle of cameras, Segerblom moved to the counter where one of the budtenders rang up his sale. A cheer went up in the room. Las Vegas had legalized the adult use of cannabis and the world had not come to an end. It was in fact just the beginning. Even with restrictions currently in place prohibiting cannabis consumption just about anywhere, everyone knows that it will only be a matter of time before things loosen up.

Outside, the line now extended down the side and around the corner of the massive Reef building. About two thousand people, mostly locals, waited for their chance to buy legal rec weed in the state for the first time. Not wanting a riot, the media was ushered out quickly as staff prepared to let people in. The normal business of retail sales needed to start.

We left to check other places. Nearby was a place called Acres, which had a line of about 50 people waiting patiently in line. The owners were gracious and allowed us to tour the facility. As at Reef and elsewhere, their excitement and optimism about the future was palpable. We drove around the city and found a mishmash of situations at local pot shops. Some, like Essence, near the Stratosphere, still had healthy lines at 1 a.m. Others had no lines at all, and one was closed. We spoke with one operator who said they had decided only that evening to open up for rec after midnight struck. Interestingly, the diversity and arbitrariness of this evening’s roll-out of cannabis retail operations seemed to reinforce Vegas’s identity as a city determined to serve up an endless variety of options, whatever the product.

We called it quits at about 3:30 a.m. Later that morning, before heading back to Los Angeles, I stopped back by Reef Dispensaries, where 50 or so people were already lined up outside the entrance to the dispensary. I asked a couple at the end of the line how long they had been waiting. “About an hour,” the guy said, adding cheerily, “but we’re next up.” There was easily another hour wait and I didn’t have time, so I headed over to Acres, where the wait was about five minutes. All they asked to see was my id. Inside the dispensary area, I waited in a short line with a couple of guys as budtenders finished up with other customers. We stood there silently, just three regular people of different ages, waiting to buy a product. One day in, and the mundane reality of the basic purchase was already in play. Even law enforcement was underwhelmed. “Metro Police as of 5 p.m. Saturday hadn’t responded to any major calls connected [to] marijuana sales,” reported the Las Vegas Sun.