The recreational cannabis industry in Nevada launched in 2017, but the implementation of its laws has revealed holes in the legislation. For one, consumers (particularly tourists), are limited in where they can legally consume their pot.

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Second, the execution of the licensure selection process has been exclusive and opaque, leaving prospective cannabis businesses angry enough to take the state to court.

This confusion has led some consumers to ask "is weed legal in Nevada?"

What the Consumer Needs to Know

Even Sin City has rules. Here are the three big pot no-no’s in the state of Nevada:

  • Do not consume cannabis publicly. 
  • Do not drive under the influence.
  • Do not purchase cannabis from any person or establishment without a state-issued license.

The first time you are caught violating the rules outlined by the law, you will be charged with a misdemeanor and may be fined up to $600. The fines escalate with each subsequent offense. Once you’ve reached your third violation, you will be charged with a gross misdemeanor. Any subsequent violations will be charged with a Category E felony.

Now for the fun part. What allowances do Nevada’s cannabis laws make for the cannabis user?

Las vegas, USA - June 16, 2012: people visit Fremont Street in Las Vegas, Nevada . The street is the second most famous street in the Las Vegas. Fremont Street dates back to 1905, when Las Vegas was founded. iStock / Meinzahn

Personal Possession

Adults who are 21 and older (and who can prove that with a valid government issued ID) can possess up to 1 ounce of dried cannabis and up to 1/8 ounce of concentrates on their person at a time. Patients under 21 with a medical marijuana card may access cannabis for medical use. Patients who are 18 years old or younger must have a registered primary caregiver. 

It is illegal for weed to be consumed in a moving vehicle, even if the consumer is a passenger. It’s also illegal to consume pot publicly. But if you find a private residence that allows cannabis use, you’re good to go. This has been one of the trickiest aspects of Nevada’s burgeoning pot industry because, despite legality, there are still relatively few places where it’s okay to consume compared to the massive amount of tourists who flood the Silver State each year.

Cannabis Gifting

If you’re feeling generous, you may give your buddy up to 1 ounce of cannabis flower or up to 1/8 of concentrates. Here’s the key, though—it has to be free. If your roommate picks up some bud at the dispensary on their way home, and you pay them back, you’re technically breaking the law. If you have a personal cannabis garden and you give your cousin a clone for even just a few bucks, you are breaking the law. If there is any monetary transaction in exchange for weed, you are breaking the law unless the transaction involves a customer purchasing weed from a registered agent working in a licensed dispensary. Of course, whether or not these extreme cases are enforceable is a completely different question, but we're not here to encourage you to break the law. Use your best judgment. 

Home Growing

Seedlings of cannabis on the windowsill and cactus iStock / NataGolubnycha

Nevada residents are permitted to grow up to 6 plants per person, but a maximum of 12 plants per household. 

Plants must be grown discreetly.  This means they must be secured in a room, closet, greenhouse, or other private space that can be fastened with a lock or comparable security device. If you own the property you want to grow on or otherwise have permission from the property owner, and if the plants are not visible from a public location, you have permission from the state to start your personal cannabis grow.   

Nevada Cannabusiness Laws

Nevada’s department of taxation is the regulatory body overseeing the licensure and operation of the state’s retail cannabis industry and its medical marijuana program. There are five types of licenses that may be granted:

  • Cultivation Facility
  • Distributor
  • Product Manufacturing Facility
  • Testing Facility
  • Retail Store   

Businesses granted cultivation facility licenses are authorized to grow, process, and package cannabis. They may also deliver their products to labs for testing, retail cannabis stores, manufacturing businesses, and other commercial grows. Consumers may not purchase cannabis directly from cultivation facilities.

Distributors may lawfully transport cannabis from one licensed marijuana business to another, but not to consumers. Licensed distributors can deliver cannabis from a cultivation facility to a laboratory or retail store, for example.

A product manufacturing facility license authorizes a business to purchase, process, and package cannabis products such as concentrates, edibles, and topicals. These businesses are authorized to sell their products to other licensed cannabis businesses, but not directly to consumers.

Testing facilities are authorized to test cannabis flower and cannabis products for potency and contaminants.

Retail stores are the only licensed businesses from which consumers can purchase cannabis. These businesses are licensed to buy cannabis from cultivation or product manufacturing facilities and sell those products to consumers. As of now, consumers are not authorized to smoke on the site of a dispensary. However, there is a political push for the legalization of cannabis lounges to give customers a safe, public location to enjoy their purchases. 

Eligibility to Work for a Pot Business

A budtender showing off a jar of cured cannabis flowers. iStock / AYEHAB

There are two essential criteria someone interested in working for a marijuana business has to meet: they must be at least 21 years old, and they cannot have been convicted of a class A felony offense including first or second degree murder, first degree kidnapping, sexual assault, using a minor to create child pornography, or battery. They can also not have been convicted of a cumulative of two felonies (regardless of the felony class).

If the sentence for the criminal offense was completed over ten years prior to the application, the candidate is still eligible to work for a pot industry (as long as it was not a class A felony).

If a potential employee was convicted of an act that the updated cannabis law would not categorize as criminal, they are still eligible for work. For example, if a budtender candidate was convicted of possessing an ounce of pot before the law was enacted, they could still be offered the job.

If a cannabis employee candidate is at least 21 years old, they must receive a registered agent card. A criminal background check is required as a part of the application process.

The Law Has Left Entrepreneurs Hanging 

The people aren’t too happy about how the department of taxation is handling its regulatory responsibilities.

Multiple companies have filed suit, complaining that the process used to award licenses has been too secretive, arbitrary, and, ultimately, unconstitutional. Out of 462 applications, 61 licenses were awarded to cannabis producers, processors, laboratories, and dispensaries. That’s approximately 1 percent of applications. Ideally, if the department of taxation is going to be so exclusive, its selection process should be transparent. At the very least, the criteria used during the selection process should be made clear.

According to Vincent Savarese, the attorney who authored the constitutional complaint, the state has failed to provide these basic safeguards against corruption.

“I’m not saying anybody corruptly got a license,” Savarese said. “But I’m saying that if they had, the process is opaque enough to provide cover for it.”

Here’s the bottom line for entrepreneurs interested in opening a cannabis business in the Silver state: for now, look elsewhere. The department is not currently accepting new applications for licenses, and even if it was, the likelihood of receiving a license is extremely low. The outlook for cannabis businesses looking to take part in Nevada’s over $500 million industry may be brighter if the current lawsuits against the department of taxation result in greater transparency in the applicant selection process.