Nevada: From ‘Life for Sales’ to ‘Legitimate, Legal Pot Massage’

A previous generation of Nevada lawmakers enshrined draconian penalties for cannabis possession and sale, infamously printing the sentencing minimums on a road sign with the admonition “don’t gamble with marijuana.” Today’s Silver State legislature is encouraging people to literally gamble — with marijuana. What made Sin City go from handing out life sentences to protecting “legitimate, legal pot massage?” Votes.


A generation ago, Nevada’s harsh laws jailed people for pot, sometimes for life.

These days, progressive pot laws working through the Nevada state Legislature would, among other things, guarantee adults the right to smoke pot inside massage parlors while receiving pot massages from licensed workers who’d be protected by law for performing such services.

You’d have to bring your own pot-laced lotions and oils but the legislation allowing massage therapists to use cannabis and hemp products on clients for topical purposes was heard by lawmakers in Carson City on April 4.

In addition to legitimizing the cannabis spa treatment, Senate Bill 396 would prohibit the state’s professional licensing board from taking disciplinary action against health care providers and massage therapists who administer or recommend pot products to patients and clients.

Along with Senate Bill 236, which would allow public pot smoking and other forms of consumption at business and event locations (massage parlors, bars, restaurants, hotels, street festivals and more), Senate Bill 396 is one of the more socially progressive pot bills at the state-house level in the United States this legislative season.

Legitimate, legal pot massage. Nevada’s come a long way from the law previously laid down on infamous highway signs: 20 years for pot possession, life for sales. What changed?

“The politicians just started talking to the voters and the voters love marijuana,” said Sen. Tick Segerblom, a Nevada Democrat who sponsored the public-consumption bill. “Politicians are scared of their shadows but we were able to overcome that. Fifty-five percent of the voters approved recreational marijuana last November. Now at this point the politicians can’t really stop it.”

Segerblom also wrote the most anticipated bill facing the Nevada Legislature: Senate Bill 302, which would speed the start of recreational cannabis sales in a sprint toward a tax revenue bonanza and an effort to knee-cap the black market.

“First off, the voters have spoken. It’s legal,” Segerblom said.  “We don’t want to create a black market where people can use it but they cannot buy it. Also, the governor put $100 million in his budget that he expects to obtain from recreational marijuana in the next two years. So we’ve got to get it out there and generate some tax revenue.”

Segerblom’s early-sales bill would impose significantly higher state taxes: 15 percent for recreational and 5 percent for medical, the latter up from 2 percent.

Nevada law requires recreational cannabis sales will begin no later than Jan. 1, 2018. Segerblom’s early-sales bill would take effect as soon as it’s approved. Nevada’s part-time Legislature is in session until June.

July is the most widely anticipated target for the start of retail sales. Existing medical cannabis dispensaries will initially handle recreational sales.

One group that’s in no hurry to greet recreational cannabis is Nevada’s liquor distributors, who were given first dibs on licenses to act as cannabis wholesalers between cultivators, production companies and retail shops. But none have filled out applications with the Department of Taxation, fearful of how federal alcohol regulators feel about cannabis, which is legal only at the state level and illegal federally.

Edibles manufacturers are also miffed. Senate Bill 344 would outlaw non-baked edibles containing sugar — candy, beverages and anything shaped or colored to appeal to children.

Meanwhile, the Nevada Athletic Commission is studying whether it should remove cannabis from its list of banned substances.

TELL US, are you surprized to see progressive cannabis laws in Nevada?

Ed Murrieta's cannabis bylines appear in Leafly, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Cannabist. His edibles recipes appear in The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook. He blogs at PotAppetit.com. He's previously written and edited for the Sacramento Bee and Wired.com.

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