Marijuana’s Impact on Las Vegas from a Non-User’s Perspective
Now, four months into Nevada’s bold experiment with recreational marijuana use, all evidence indicates that critics of legalization were dead wrong about the presumed dangers they insisted would occur.
This isn’t the view of a biased, half-stoned, pot smoker. It’s my sober opinion based on countless encounters with pot users who I’ve seen light up in public places, mostly using vaporizers. “Vaping,” I believe it’s called. Forgive me if I get some of the lingo wrong. I’m not familiar with the mechanics of marijuana smoking nor do I know how to use one of those devices which resembles an electronic metal tube. In fact, I’ve never smoked marijuana (or cannabis) in my life and have no plans to do so in the future.
I don’t like drugs. But I don’t begrudge those who chose to imbibe in the milder stuff, provided they act responsibly. Despite having no desire to partake, I strongly favor the legalization of recreational marijuana (and most other drugs, too). Nonetheless, earlier this year when the law changed, no one knew what to expect once using marijuana became as convenient as buying a six-pack. Frankly, given Las Vegas’ pervasive culture of quick and easy access to all forms of vice, things could have gone either way.
Critics warned that incidents of public disorder would worsen. They claimed crime would increase. They insisted recreational marijuana use would lead to a significant rise in the use of harder drugs, thus filling up emergency rooms and adding to the burdens of law enforcement.
Turns out, legalizing marijuana hasn’t made any of these problems worse. In fact, pot may have actually helped to reduce some these problems. In recent months, for instance, I’ve encountered fewer traffic accidents. Data will ultimately determine if the rate of auto accidents has declined in Nevada since legalizing marijuana. But based on personal experience, I’m willing to stand by the supposition that things are better now.
Why is this so? My theory is as follows: Since more people are now smoking marijuana than before, they’re also consuming less alcohol. This shift in behavior would likely reduce the number of impaired drivers on the road. Fewer impaired drivers means fewer accidents.
But doesn’t smoking pot impair driving? I don’t think so. Interestingly, I see drivers smoking pot all the time. At stoplights, drivers frequently roll down their windows and release huge plumes of white smoke. You can’t drive anywhere in the city and not witness this phenomenon. When my windows are down and I’m sitting next to another vehicle with a driver who’s vaping, the odor is unmistakable. It’s pot. Yet, I’ve not seen any incidents where any pot-smoking driver appears to be driving unsafely. Sure, it might happen occasionally. I just haven’t seen it.
I don’t want to be accused of overstating things, but marijuana use appears to be happening almost everywhere around Las Vegas. I’m astounded at how public this activity is and how few people (non-users) seem to care. Pulling into some parking garages is like getting invited to a pot party. Small groups of people are frequently seen standing around their cars, at all hours of the day and night, sometimes just sitting in their cars quietly as though huddled around a campfire, as clouds of smoke rise into the air. It’s pervasive.
I’ve walked past these dens of pot smokers more times than I can count, frequently late at night after a long poker session. I’ve never encountered a problem or felt unsafe. Not once.
Downtown Las Vegas has become a melting pot of bikers, women with too many tattoos, budget-seeking tourists from the Midwest, and at least on weekends — about half the population of San Bernadino County. It’s also become the city’s epicenter for marijuana use. Locals and tourists alike carry vaping devices openly on city streets and inside many casinos, toking away. Many different odors have come to be associated with marijuana products now, given there are so many different varieties. I don’t know enough about it to describe the sensation, but the smell is distinctive and unmistakable.
Despite all the pot smoking within relatively confined spaces, I’ve seen no incidents of violence or disorder associated with its use. To the contrary. Smoking pot appears to make most users more mellow. They don’t want to fight. They want to chill, and maybe later — eat. Moreover, smoking pot usually means there’s less drinking. So, just like with driving, that would account for less public intoxication and violence.
Again, it may be too early to tell just yet, but crime has not increased in Las Vegas (obviously, the mass shooting isn’t taken into account here, but that had nothing to do with drug use). Desperate dope addicts aren’t robbing and stealing in order to feed their addictions. That appears to be yet another myth associated with legalizing marijuana — now disproven. I expect we’ll eventually see better research on this which will settle the matter once and for all.
The only negative I’ve experienced with marijuana used so openly is a mildly annoying odor, at times. If confined within a small space, the smell of smoke vapors can be pretty intense to a non-user. But I’ve yet to encounter any of the discomforts associated with second-hand smoke — such as coughing and burning eyes. Given the option of having a cigarette smoker VERSUS a pot smoker (vaping) right next to me, and I’ll gladly take the pot smoker. In a heartbeat. No discussion necessary. Not even close. Besides, the pot smoker probably won’t be much of a bother.
I can’t speak with any depth as to the economics of legalizing marijuana. However, the state’s revenue from taxation will be huge. Based on reports, including the conservative-leaning Las Vegas Review-Journal, local and state officials appear to be doing a remarkable job in policing the new industry, which remains scandal-free. Even more compelling is the fact that hundreds (perhaps thousands) of new jobs have been created, many at legal dispensaries located all over town. So, economically speaking, legalizing marijuana has been a good thing. Just how good still remains to be seen.
Okay, so virtually all the short-term impacts of legalizing marijuana appear to be positive. But what about the long-term? Surely, we will pay a heavy price down the road, right?
We’ll eventually see. If the critics are right (they’ve been wrong on every point, thus far); if marijuana proves to be a so-called “gateway drug” to harder stuff in the future, then Las Vegas will have some mighty big problems. However, there’s no evidence yet that harder drug use has worsened in jurisdictions where pot has been legal for some time. Other states (and countries) which liberalized their drug laws aren’t seeing any epidemics when it comes to overdosing and addiction. In the end, legalization probably ends up saving more lives since those who do abuse drugs won’t be dissuaded against getting treatment because of fears of being charged with a crime.
Alas, the most serious drug epidemic in this country right now has nothing whatsoever to do with marijuana. It has everything to do with a corrupt corporate capitalistic culture pushing the hell out of opioids in order to swell profits and make shareholders happy. Las Vegas certainly has its share of victims who have become slaves to this opioid crisis. Still, none of this has anything to do with marijuana. America’s opioid addiction crisis has killed thousands. But no one dies from smoking marijuana. Let’s face it. It’s big pharma’s bonus-driven corporate whores and overzealous marketing departments who are the most dangerous and destructive drug cartel in America. Not pot people.
By and large, Las Vegas’ initial four months as a test case in the ongoing marijuana debate has produced a convincing case that this should be our national drug policy: Total decriminalization of all marijuana-related products, sale, and use — in every state in America. Imagine how that might free up our overburdened law enforcement and court system to tackle real crime instead of wasting precious resources busting pot smokers.
It’s clear. Critics of drug legalization here in Las Vegas have been proven wrong. Advocates were right. So, let’s now listen to the people who got it right and start ignoring the people who always seem to get things wrong. Let’s get wise and expand this smart and more economical approach towards marijuana to other places.
Here’s the final conclusion of someone who has no interest in smoking marijuana: Legalizing recreational marijuana in Nevada was the right thing to do.