Guest Blog Post by Woody Goulart

Las Vegas, Nevada, known today worldwide as a desert resort playground for adults, is emerging as a forerunner in the engagement of everyday people to travel here with the idea in mind of using cannabis. On any given day cannabis-friendly Las Vegas welcomes visitors arrive by air, bus, and car—there is no longer passenger rail service to get you here from anywhere else.

The adjacent state of California, the most populous place in the nation with nearly 40 million people, has enacted pro-cannabis laws. Yet, Los Angeles area residents are irresistibly tempted to make the infamous four-hour (or longer), one-way drive across the desert to a popular place in the sun offering escape from everyday reality. The first 100 years of Las Vegas growth was stimulated by dazzling casinos and top entertainment productions featuring famous celebrities. 

The Next 100 Years

The second Las Vegas century already is underway, punctuated by the urge for escapism from everyday pain through cannabis. This cultural shift began with legislative changes in Nevada. Following voter approval, the state in 2000 legalized medical cannabis, then a second ballot measure made recreational use of cannabis products legal starting in 2017. Another crucial change happened in 2018 with the government passage of The Farm Bill that opened up nationwide CBD marketing and sales.

Clark County, Nevada—home to both the Las Vegas Valley and also most of the state’s population—experienced a stunningly unexpected introduction of legalized recreational cannabis sales in terms of the revenue generated. Las Vegas Cannabis There were 35 cannabis dispensaries licensed as of July 1, 2017 throughout this one Nevada county alone and government officials all across Nevada eagerly started making plans for distributing the tax revenue from cannabis sales. The general public’s acceptance of recreational retail sales of cannabis in Nevada has initiated a slow but steady transformation of a relatively small state whose population is only about 3 million people.

The Famous Nickname

At some point in the foreseeable future, the choice by a city or region in the United States to use a nickname such as the “new” Amsterdam specifically for marketing of legalized cannabis sales potentially could cause all kinds of legal entanglements. And nobody (except perhaps lawyers) wants such unsavory litigious outcomes to befall anyone.

I am one of many who believes this cannabis sales marketing nickname rightfully belongs to Las Vegas, Nevada and not to any other U.S. venues where cannabis consumers legally can shop. My particular bias is out here in plain view for everyone to see.

Local community and business leaders nowadays talk openly about their hopes for Las Vegas to learn the many available lessons about managing tourism brought on by this culture change. More specifically, such hopes consider the impact of potential tax and commercial revenue that are expected to be generated by an increase in cannabis tourism to Las Vegas.

The future of Las Vegas is most accurately viewed or considered through the lens of history. Amsterdam, the capitol of the Netherlands, with roughly the same population as the entire Las Vegas Valley, has since the late 1970s learned to manage their influx of visiting cannabis consumers internationally. 

In contrast to the comparatively young Las Vegas (founded in the first decade of the 20th century), however, Amsterdam has since the late 12th century had more than enough time to get their act together. Pictured is one of the many colorful public venues in Amsterdam where cannabis can be purchased and consumed legally. 

Slow Start for Nevada’s Public Cannabis Consumption Venues

Will the anticipated legalization of public consumption venues actually happen throughout the state of Nevada? In turn, will that boost Las Vegas to become the “new” Amsterdam in the Mojave Desert—an American cannabis Las Vegas Cannabis tourism destination?

This is not a question that anybody can answer easily or quickly. Changing a slew of laws at the state and local levels in Nevada to enable legal public cannabis consumption venues has already been bogged down despite substantial cheery optimism about a wide-open future for the cannabis sector in Nevada. In 2019 there is but one public venue for cannabis consumption in all of Nevada—not far from the legendary Fremont Street casino corridor in downtown Las Vegas. This is legal, if surprising. This first Nevada public venue for cannabis consumption is located inside the NuWu Cannabis Marketplace, situated on sovereign soil owned and operated by the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe—not subject to state or local laws on the books that regulate the cannabis industry. 

If public cannabis consumption venues are legalized throughout the state of Nevada some day, can the entire Las Vegas Valley possibly learn to stay ahead of the increasing public acceptance of using cannabis? This entire region potentially could experience a major upswing in both visitors and new residents who flock here for reasons completely unrelated to casinos or Broadway-style shows or even a Las Vegas expansion of professional sports teams. In 2018 the annual number of visitors exceeded the number of locals in Las Vegas 13 times over so historical data points to Southern Nevada in the near future potentially facing an influx of additional people as visitors or for career relocation.

The long-standing nickname of “Sin City” distinguishes Las Vegas from other population centers in the United States. Las Vegas owns the reputation as the marriage and divorce mecca of the nation. The allure of neon-lit casinos across the Las Vegas Valley for over 100 years has motivated visitors to come here and willingly part with their money. 

The Past Predicts the Future

If the necessary laws eventually get changed in Nevada, the next logical phase in the evolution of Las Vegas as a world-class “territory of pleasure” could very well be worldwide marketing of legal sales and public consumption of cannabis products. The City of Amsterdam already proved that tourists will travel to be able to buy and consume cannabis in a destination providing ample opportunities for gambling, dining, and outdoor recreation. The original Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Las Vegas, Nevada share three key similarities:

  • a worldwide reputation as particularly desirable tourism destinations
  • casino gambling
  • retail cannabis sales

To me, these three similarities point to the marketing value of the nickname the “new” Amsterdam of the West being claimed rightfully by Las Vegas, Nevada.

Woody Goulart, PhD, a cannabis adjacent entrepreneur, lives and works in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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