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Nevada Goes Green With Recreational Marijuana, and Alcohol Industry Wants a Piece of the Pot

The Silver State is about to see a lot more green starting on Saturday.

After 55 percent of Nevada voters approved of a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in November, dispensaries will begin opening their doors to sell to the public this weekend.

“I’m a child of the 60s, and I saw that it didn’t destroy the world,” state Senator Tick Segerblom, a leader of the marijuana legalization movement, told NBC News. “It’s a no brainer to make it regulated, to tax it, to test it and to let people enjoy it.”

The newly legalized drug is expected to bring a tourism boom to Las Vegas, where Segerblom estimates sales could bring in as much as $150 million — nearly a quarter of the state's 2018 infrastructure budget — in two years for the Nevada government.

Examining Nevada's New Marijuana Law 1:37

"I personally think it’s really a game changer," Segerblom said. "It’s the last vice that’s going to be made legal and when you look at other states, this is final straw where we’ll have something else to sell where people can take advantage of it. I don’t think [the economic impact will last] forever, but it will be a period of time when [tourists] can come here and do something they can’t do back home."

Until California begins its recreational marijuana dispensing in January 2018, experts say Nevada will likely have the nation’s biggest market.

It’s unclear, however, how many of the 56 million annual tourists to Nevada will be aware that it is legal to light up — since advertisements are banned from any medium where at least 30 percent of the audience is believed to be younger than 21, according to the Associated Press.

It will also only be legal to smoke in private residencies.

And there is another obstacle facing the roll out of recreational marijuana in Nevada: Alcohol wholesalers.

When the recreational marijuana statue was approved by voters, it gave alcohol wholesalers exclusive rights to the distribution licenses for the first 18 months it was enacted.

Image: Nevada dispensary
A man walks past the Mynt Cannabis Dispensary in downtown Reno, Nevada on June 21, 2017. Scott Sonner / AP

Letters were mailed to eligible license holders in the state, but Chris Thompson, the executive director for the Las Vegas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said with few responses, tax commissioners approved a temporary regulation that would allow the department to make exceptions for non-wholesalers.

In May, the Independent Alcohol Distributors of Nevada filed a complaint saying the booze wholesalers should have exclusive rights to the licenses and that a May 31 license deadline for the wholesalers should not be enforced, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

At the end of May, a judge ruled in the alcohol wholesalers favor. But state officials have said they intend to appeal this ruling.

"So basically, according to text of [the statue], the alcohol distributors get to set up regulated distribution methods," Thompson said. "We’re the only state that does that."

Thompson noted that when recreational dispensaries open at midnight on Saturday, there still isn’t a plan in place for distribution between the retailers and the dispensers.

Related: Police Searches Drop Dramatically in States that Legalized Marijuana

Nevada has already had medical marijuana dispensaries since 2015. A workaround from the state says whatever leftover medical marijuana those dispensaries are in possession of on July 1 can be sold as recreational — but they cannot re-up.

“All those product can be sold as recreational, but once they run out there will not be [a plan] until the alcohol wholesalers figure out what they want to do,” Thompson told NBC News.

Thompson and Segerblom said the dispensaries are stocking up, hoping to have enough product to last about 30 days — when it is believed the alcohol industry will have their dispensing mechanisms up and running.

During the next 30 days, alcohol wholesalers and state legislators will be working to determine how much of a cut will go to the alcohol industry, Thompson said. He added that although the amount going into the pockets of the alcohol industry — whether it be a percentage of the profits or a flat rate fee — is still unclear, users are nervous a third party could see prices skyrocket.

Segerblom expects to have a deal negotiated in the coming weeks, Thompson said.

In another twist, because liquor licenses are federal and the U.S. government still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance, pot cannot be smoked inside the casinos and bars. Experts say that could boost sales of marijuana edibles.

Once the marijuana industry begins in earnest, Segerblom believes a wealth of different marijuana tourism ventures will set up shop in Nevada.

“We’ve already been approached by marijuana hotel, marijuana tours, marijuana ranches — you cannot imagine anything they haven’t thought of already,” Segerblom said. “If the demand is there, we’ll get there.”

Before the hotels and ranches begin popping up, Segerblom plans to enjoy the newest vice in Sin City — one named just for him.

“I’m going to be the first buyer at one of the big places. I have my own strand [called] Segerblom Haze,” Segerblom said. “It’s kind of a joke, but I heard it’s pretty good.”

CORRECTION (July 9, 2017, 2:33 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the number of tourists who visit Nevada annually. The state has 56 million visitors annually, not 45 million. (The latter figure is the number of Las Vegas tourists.)