LAS VEGAS — Tourists and locals alike were among the more than 100 people waiting in line at one Las Vegas-area dispensary Saturday as Nevada became the latest state in the U.S. with stores selling marijuana for recreational purposes.
Minnesota resident Edgar Rosas Lorenzo on Saturday flew with his family to Sin City for a wedding. But even before he checked in to his hotel, he stopped at a dispensary on the Las Vegas Strip.
Lorenzo, 21, said he learned of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Nevada while he was at the airport waiting for his flight to depart. He drove with his sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law from the rental car facility in Las Vegas straight to the dispensary. They waited in line about 40 minutes before he could buy one-eighth of an ounce of marijuana and hemp wraps.
"It was worth the wait. I'm going to come get some more tomorrow," Lorenzo said after paying about $60 in cash at Essence dispensary. "It helps me sleep. I get back pain. I have a slipped disk."
It remains illegal in Nevada to consume marijuana in public, including hotels. Violators face a $600 fine.
That's one reason why some in the industry think edibles will be most popular with visitors, who can eat the goodies almost anywhere without attracting attention, including casino floors where cigarettes are allowed but pot-smoking is not.
"I have yet to figure that out," Lorenzo said of where he'll smoke the weed he got at the Essence dispensary.
Lorenzo immediately posted photos of his stash on Snapchat. His friends have said they're jealous and asked where he bought the products, he said. Lorenzo said he will plan another trip to Vegas specifically to be able to legally purchase marijuana, not to visit the city's world famous casinos.
"We just got here ... Instead of looking around in Vegas, I'm in a dispensary," he said.
Armen Yemenidjian, CEO of Essence Cannabis Dispensaries, called the day historic. "The prohibition of cannabis is ending slowly but surely, and, you know, we as Las Vegans are happy to be a part of it," Yemenidjian said.
Meanwhile, Kristin Deneal got in line outside a pot shop at 5:45 a.m., after a different store that opened at midnight closed before she could make a purchase. She brought a folding chair and sat by the door, striking conversations with the security guard and others as the line continued to grow before doors opened at 9 a.m.
Deneal, a Las Vegas resident, said she is elated at being able to legally buy the drug that for decades she has had to buy through acquaintances. She said smoking marijuana helps her cope with health conditions while also working a stressful job at a bank.
"It looks like they have enough stuff for everyone, it's just a question of getting through the door," she said.
State Sen. Tick Segerblom, one of the main proponents of marijuana legalization in Nevada, made the first purchase at The Source dispensary at a strip mall. Deneal and others followed. An hour after the door opened, at least 80 transactions had been recorded.
Deneal, 57, said she has a bipolar disorder and a bad neck. She said she never got a medical card for fear of a federal crackdown on those who provided their information to obtain it. And now, she said, she no longer has to fear potentially being arrested for possessing marijuana.
"I'm going to spend the whole $100 bucks," she said.
Recreational marijuana sales began shortly after midnight, just months after voters approved legalization in November, marking the fastest turnaround from the ballot box to retail sales in the country.
Hundreds of people lined up at Essence Cannabis Dispensary on the Las Vegas Strip. People were excited and well-behaved as a lone security guard looked on. A valet was available to park cars for the customers.
A cheer erupted when the doors opened.
Those 21 and older with a valid ID can buy up to an ounce of pot. Tourists are expected to make nearly two of every three recreational pot purchases in Nevada, but people can only use the drug in a private home.
Despite the limits on where people can get high and restrictions on where the industry can advertise, dispensaries worked furiously to prepare for the launch. They stamped labels on pot products, stocked up their shelves, added security and checkout stations, and announced specials.
Some facilities are in strip malls, while others, in stereotypical Las Vegas fashion, are in neighborhoods shared by strip clubs. Some dispensaries have ATMs inside because they only accept cash transactions for marijuana.
Nevada joins Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska in allowing adults to buy the drug that's still banned by the federal government.
"I've been living in Vegas for 15 years and I keep missing the cities that legalize marijuana and edibles. So I'm happy that it's here now," said Babs Daitch, who was waiting in line.