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Cannabis lounges coming to Nevada with host of new laws

October 1, 2021 GMT

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A flurry of laws passed by the Nevada Legislature earlier this year take effect on Friday — ushering in reforms that Democratic lawmakers who have majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly have long campaigned to implement.

Five years after the the state’s voters approved legalizing recreational cannabis in Nevada, business owners can now apply for licenses to establish on-site consumption lounges, where adults can smoke, dab or eat THC-laced edibles that they buy.

A law introduced by Assemblyman Steve Yeager that allows the Cannabis Compliance Board to start accepting applications takes effect on Friday. Once licensed, the lounges will become the first public places in Nevada where cannabis products can be consumed recreationally.

The state’s emerging cannabis industry has promoted the lounges for their economic development potential and pitched them as a draw for the millions of tourists who visit Las Vegas annually but can’t legally use the products in places like hotels.

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The permitting system created under the new law prioritizes Black and Latino applicants who have been “adversely affected by provisions of previous laws which criminalized activity relating to cannabis.”

A points-based system to score applicants was introduced after data showed the state’s cannabis industry to be disproportionately white and male — a finding that concerned lawmakers and advocates who said it pointed to the racial disparities in how drug offenses were prosecuted before legalization.

Licensing fees for the lounges range from $10,000 to $100,000 but can be reduced for applicants affected by previous drug laws. Nevada is now among seven states that now permits cannabis lounges.

Other new state laws taking effect:

POLICE USE OF FORCE

Following the 2020 protests after last year’s police killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, lawmakers passed a bill changing the standards for when Nevada law enforcement officers can use deadly force. It requires departments to adopt de-escalation techniques as part of their training and use deadly force only when it is “objectively reasonable under the circumstances.”

The law also limits police use of restraint chairs, restricts officers from shooting rubber bullets or tear gas indiscriminately to disperse protests and requires departments to routinely submit use-of-force reports to the state Attorney General.

NO KNOCK WARRANTS

After the death of Breonna Taylor during the police raid of her home in Kentucky, statehouses throughout the country moved to limit the kind of no-knock warrants that were the pretext used to enter the Black woman’s home.

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In Nevada, a bill sponsored by Attorney General Aaron Ford that turns into law Friday narrows when departments can seek no-knock warrants to instances where they’re necessary to prevent destruction of evidence or protect the safety of officers. Law enforcement agencies said the warrants were rarely issued or used in Nevada. Ford argued it was necessary to enshrine what was previously only police department policy into state law.

PATTERN AND PRACTICE INVESTIGATIONS

Another measure promoted by Ford expands his office’s jurisdiction to investigate police misconduct. The Attorney General can now conduct “pattern and practice” investigations in light of alleged police misconduct to determine whether the misconduct stems from departmental policies, customs and culture or individual officers.

Supporters said external oversight will help combat discriminatory patterns and practices, while opponents, including the union representing Las Vegas deputy sheriffs, decried it as political and unnecessary.

PAY EQUITY AND TRANSPARENCY

Employers can no longer ask job applicants about their salaries under a new law aimed at combatting gender-based inequity. Employers — including private companies, governments and schools — must not ask about salary histories and must specify a salary range for prospective workers under the new law, or face administrative penalties and fines of up to $5,000 from the state labor commissioner.

DRIVER’S LICENSE SUSPENSIONS

Tens of thousands of drivers have their licenses suspended annually in Nevada, most because they don’t pay traffic tickets. Courts can no longer suspend the driver’s licenses of people who don’t pay fees, fines or traffic tickets under $5,000 under a new law. Democrats in support of the law said license suspensions disproportionately affected low income residents. Advocates said license suspensions often exacerbated problems, making it more difficult to maintain jobs and leading to mounting fees including one required to reinstate suspended licenses.

The Department of Motor Vehicles will start sending postcards to drivers deemed safe who are eligible to have their licenses automatically reinstated under the new law, whether they can pay their fines and fees or not.

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Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.