As Schumer muses, the prohibition politics of pot in the casino industry continues By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports April 21, 2021 at 7:00 pm Another 4/20 came and went with nothing for the casino industry to celebrate. Despite recreational cannabis use being legal in Nevada, gaming operators remain prohibited from allowing marijuana use on resort properties. Meanwhile, legal marijuana dispensaries operate in the shadow of Las Vegas Strip resorts. Still classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 substance up there with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, cannabis is legal for recreational use in Nevada despite, as the government puts it, delivering a “drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” A marijuana dispensary on Las Vegas Boulevard The consensus has been that as long as it is against federal law, the casino industry won’t participate in the legalized pot party that continues to sweep the nation. And federal law appeared unlikely to change. Cannabis has been illegal federally since the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 only further codified the law. Given that long tradition of prohibition, it would be easy to write off the possibility of an end to the Schedule 1 status as a fantasy. But times may be changing – in Washington, DC. It isn’t often you hear leading U.S. Senators publicly address the issue, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer did this week. On Tuesday he left little doubt about where he stands on the issue. “Today is what you might call a very unofficial American holiday: 4/20,” he said in his daily remarks from the Senator floor. “It’s as appropriate a time as any to take a hard look at our laws that have over-criminalized the use of marijuana and put it on par with heroin, LSD, and other narcotics that bear little or no resemblance in their effects either on individuals or on society more broadly.” For Schumer, D-New York, it’s not about business, but about racial equity. The “War on Drugs,” he said, has too often degraded into a war on people of color. From disproportionate law enforcement targeting to draconian sentencing and a criminal stigma that often lasts a lifetime, those who are hurt worst can afford it least. “It makes no sense and it’s time for a change,” Schumer said. “I believe the time has come to end the federal prohibition on marijuana in this country—and I am working with Senators (Cory) Booker and (Ron) Wyden on legislation to do just that.” Like many other elected officials, Schumer has changed his views on the subject. Public acceptance of cannabis has widened over time. When New York legalized cannabis for recreational use, it was a tipping point. “A number of states, including very recently my home state of New York, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults and those experiments by and large have been a success,” Schumer said. “The doom and gloom predictions made when states like Colorado or Oregon went forward and decriminalized and legalized never occurred. In state after state, through ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments, the American people are sending a clear message that they want this policy changed.” Where it all goes in a deeply divided Washington is anyone’s guess. But the open conversation signals a potential for substantive change. There should be room on both sides of the aisle to shift priorities and reform the federal government’s approach to marijuana as state after state accepts the obvious fact that the country’s views have moved from criminal prosecution to regulation and taxation. Schumer ended his floor remarks with optimism, “Hopefully the next time this unofficial holiday of 4/20 rolls around, our country will have made progress in addressing the massive over-criminalization of marijuana in a meaningful and comprehensive way.” If that happens, it will mean a new era of marketing for the casino industry. Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, the godfather of cannabis legalization in Nevada, sees bright possibilities for the marijuana and casino industries. In an article in the UNLV Gaming Law Journal co-authored with Nevada Organic Remedies general counsel Krystal Saab, Segerblom expressed his trademark confidence on the matter: “The rise of the cannabis industry has led to tensions in Nevada with the well-established gaming industry. Yet, given Nevada’s embrace of the ‘new’ and the ability to regulate ‘sin’, the future of cannabis in Nevada is likely intertwined with the success of gaming tourism. The businessmen and women who have embraced the cannabis industry in Nevada are most definitely betting on green.” If you still think it’s not possible, you likely also remember a time when the same could be said of the widespread legalization of casino gambling. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.