LAS VEGAS — Recreational marijuana becomes legal to buy Saturday in Nevada, but that doesn’t mean anything goes in the place where most people think anything goes.
Officers say they have been preparing for months to enforce the law passed by voters in November. They will focus on keeping stoned drivers off the road but also will crack down on those illegally using pot in public, which carries a $600 fine for a first offense.
Here’s a look at some the rules surrounding Nevada’s next legal vice:
Where can people use pot?
Only in a private home, including yards and porches. While it may be legal to stroll down parts of the Las Vegas Strip with your favorite adult beverage, don’t think the same applies to lighting up under the neon lights. It’s prohibited in casinos, bars, restaurants, parks, concerts and on any federal property.
The lack of places to light up has led many in the industry to believe edibles will be most popular with tourists, who can eat the goodies almost anywhere without attracting attention, including casino floors where cigarettes are allowed but pot-smoking is not.
What’s the biggest change for police?
Some departments have been giving officers additional training on determining who might be impaired. The impact of legal pot on crime rates is often debated, but police in Reno say studies show there is clearly an increase in work for law enforcement.
“It changes the dynamics of what we have to enforce and what we don’t in terms of marijuana,” Deputy Reno Police Chief Tom Robinson said. Previously, “police officers have been told to aggressively enforce marijuana laws. Now, we’ve got to change our stance, which isn’t a big deal, it’s just a mindset shift for our personnel.”
How are airports preparing?
Nevada’s major airports are fine-tuning existing policy. The federal government, which regulates the secure areas of airports, bans possessing marijuana. It also is illegal to carry pot across state lines.
However, the Transportation Security Administration says agents do not search bags for pot or other drugs. If they come across a substance that appears to be pot during screening, they refer it to local law enforcement.
Officials at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas said that if the TSA asks for help, a local officer would determine how much marijuana is involved. If it’s less than an ounce, you’re allowed to keep traveling.
The aviation director of the county encompassing Las Vegas has asked Clark County commissioners to outlaw marijuana possession at McCarran and other airports. Aviation Director Rosemary Vassiliadis said in a public filing that the proposal aims to keep the airport system in compliance with federal regulations.
Can cities outlaw pot?
Local governments can adopt regulations to allow it only in certain areas. They can ban recreational sales altogether and decide whether to grant local business licenses. But they cannot outlaw adults from possessing up to an ounce of pot or consuming it in their home or someone else’s.
Do people know what’s legal and what’s not?
Reno Vice Mayor Naomi Jardon said there’s “been a lot of confusion” among residents who “thought the rules that applied to smoking cigarettes apply to marijuana, and that’s clearly not the case. ”
“Don’t walk down the streets of Reno smoking marijuana,” she said. “It’s a $600 fine.”
And ignorance of the law is no excuse, even though nearly two-thirds of sales are expected to go to tourists unfamiliar with the sometimes complicated regulations.
“It’s expected that when you visit somewhere you do know the laws,” Las Vegas Officer Larry Hadfield said. “It’s up to the public to be educated. It’s not up to us to proactively go to tourists and tell them what the law is.”
Can you grow pot at home?
Technically, yes. But practically, in places like Las Vegas and Reno, no.
Homeowners can grow six recreational plants per person, up to 12 plants total, at a home that’s more than 25 miles away from a licensed retail facility. The number and location of pot shops in the state’s two major urban areas largely eliminate the option.
Can you keep it in your car?
Yes. Those 21 and older can possess up to an ounce of pot in public and that applies to each person in a car. But it’s illegal to smoke it in a moving vehicle, even for passengers.
Can employers fire pot users?
Yes. There are no workplace protections under Nevada’s medical or recreational marijuana laws. If a workplace prohibits marijuana, employees can be reprimanded or fired for testing positive.