Guy W. Farmer: Pot lounges are a truly bad idea

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Gov. Brian Sandoval, who apparently thinks “recreational” marijuana taxes will balance the state budget (Dream on, Governor), has asked his obscure Gaming Policy Committee to look into the potentially devastating idea of opening hundreds of so-called “pot lounges” in our state — potentially devastating because such lounges would invite direct federal intervention in Nevada’s multi-billion-dollar legal gambling industry.

Pot lounges are the “brilliant” idea of State Sen. Tick Segerblom, the self-professed “Marijuana Majarajah” who received big campaign contributions from the marijuana industry last year, making him the undisputed voice of Big Marijuana in the Silver State. To put it succinctly, Segerblom wants to turn our state into “Amsterdam West.” Brilliant indeed.

As a former Gaming Commission/Gaming Control Board staffer, I think this is one of the worst ideas I’ve heard if we’re interested in preserving the integrity of our gambling industry and keeping federal noses out of our business in accordance with the 10th Amendment to U.S. Constitution. Does anyone really think U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has vowed to enforce the nation’s drug and immigration laws, would sit idly by while Sandoval, Segerblom and arrogant but inept Tax Department Director Deonne Contine make Nevada the first and only state to approve pot lounges? No way!

“This isn’t about smoking marijuana in casinos, it’s about business,” said the Majarajah, always advocating for the pot pushers’ agenda. Not so fast, Tick, replied Gaming Commission Chairman Tony Alamo and Gaming Control Board Chairman A.J. Burnett, who have absolute authority over Nevada’s licensed and well regulated casinos. Alamo told the press he’s received many calls from casino licensees asking what punishments they’d suffer if “this or that” (pot lounges) happened.

“We told licensees to stay away from marijuana because they could be involved in federal law violations,” said Burnett, which was good advice because the DEA classifies marijuana as a Schedule One “dangerous drug.” Hopefully, Alamo and Burnett will talk sense to members of the Governor’s Gaming Policy Committee, including the ubiquitous Segerblom, a fox in the drug/gaming henhouse.

When I worked for the gaming control agencies Job No. 1 was keeping the Feds out of our casinos. That’s why we pushed back hard when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General Robert Kennedy tried to intervene in our state’s most important business. Gov. Grant Sawyer, a moderate Democrat who instituted a strict but fair “Hang Tough” gaming control policy, called Hoover a “Nazi” — a possibly injudicious choice of words — as we rebuffed federal efforts to intimidate Nevada gambling licensees.

Sawyer and his heroic Gaming Control Board Chairman, Edward A. Olsen, would have rejected pot lounges out of hand. Olsen was heroic because he went nose-to-nose with famous singer Frank Sinatra in 1963 and prevailed by revoking Sinatra’s gambling licenses for hosting Chicago Godfather Sam “Momo” Giancana at North Lake Tahoe’s Cal-Neva Lodge. Those were the days.

The pot lounge discussion started because of a Legislative Counsel Bureau legal opinion requested by Segerblom (who else?). Helpfully for Tick, the LCB couldn’t find any legal reason not to license pot lounges. But wait, there’s more. In Nevada, these kinds of opinions are rendered by Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, not by the Counsel Bureau. So step up to the plate Laxalt, we need a valid legal opinion on pot lounges.

I agree with my well-informed friend Jim Hartman, who thinks Sandoval’s “fast track” approach to recreational pot is a “bailout” for Big Marijuana. But a go-slow approach rejecting pot lounges would be much more prudent and would keep the Feds out of Nevada casinos, where they don’t belong.

Guy W. Farmer, a retired diplomat, was a state gaming control official in the 1960s.


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