The American cannabis story is perhaps the most well-known of them all, and perhaps the most complicated. Still illegal at a federal level, individual cities and states have been able to independently decide their stance on cannabis in a wave that has been sweeping the country since Proposition 64 legalised cannabis sales in California in 2016. The state of Nevada followed suit later in 2016 and on 1st January 2017, the purchase, possession, and consumption of recreational cannabis for adults became legal.
Las Vegas is a city that needs little introduction. A desert town founded in 1905, it has a notorious reputation as a place where anything goes and everything is possible. The drinks flow freely, the card tables are open 24/7 and drugs are entwined into the city’s legend, thanks to acid fueled escapades of Hunter S Thompson. In 2022, Vegas fails to disappoint if you’re a purveyor of excess. The Las Vegas strip is the American Dream on steroids. Huge hotels and vertiginous billboards instantly send your senses into overdrive. The heat and neon conspire to disorientate you, triggering a primal, unspoken urge to throw caution to the wind and smash the big red self-destruct button. The streets are alive with people, noise and the smell of cannabis. Vegas is not a place to put your feet up.
Dispensaries are dotted around the tourist hotspots with increasing frequency. Consumers are spoilt for choice, and every other taxi is a mobile advert for some weed store or other, many promising 24-hour hotel deliveries at the click of a button. While there were easier options during my stay, Vegas presented me with an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. We opted to take a walk all the way up the Las Vegas boulevard to combine sightseeing with our dispensary run, aiming for Cookes On The Strip (2307 South Las Vegas Boulevard). Cookies is a brand that, like Vegas, needs no introduction. It is a powerhouse of a cannabis brand with a global reputation. With one chance to experience retail cannabis while on a short trip, I felt obliged to investigate why this brand was so well known.
The store in question was a big blue box, painted in the classic Cookies colourway. The building rose clearly on the shimmering horizon as we made our way up the boulevard, it would be hard to miss. In true American fashion, it sits right next to a gun store. Entry to any dispensary in Vegas is simple enough, providing you’re of legal age, but you will need ID. Unbeknown to me a UK driving licence isn’t enough to gain entry. After a couple of quick Ubers, I was back at the store, passport in hand, walking through the double doors for my first true dispensary experience.
Like the Cookies brand, the shop was slick but simple, full of dazzling lights and mirrors, a less than subtle reminder you’re in Vegas. Shelves are stocked with samples of flower, dummies of carts and edibles, and of course, a wall of Cookies merch. After something of a bar crawl up the sweltering strip, the bright lights and choice were borderline overwhelming as I walked in. I didn’t know where to start. I’d forgotten my Pax, but had my 510 battery, and the rest of my group were more inclined to edibles. This thankfully reduced some of the burden of choice as I skipped past the glass bell jars of buds on display. While it wasn’t to be part of my order, I have to note the choice of flower was exceptional. I come from an era where buying cannabis meant rining a guy and asking if he had weed. No enquiring what strains were stock, no asking if he had a balanced hybrid that was good for creativity. Just chuck 20 quid through a car window and hope for the best. This is the progress we dream of in the UK.
I clearly wasn’t the first Brit to stumble through the dispensary doors, half drunk on neon cocktails and desert sun, so a helpful assistant was soon by my side to help with my choices. An iPad in hand, I relaxed into the buying process and actually enjoyed throwing out some wild demands, just because I could. After a bit of discussion, I ordered all we needed for our 4 days from the device, headed to the counter to collect my good and handed over the bills.
Due to the issue of federal law not catching up with state by state legislation, buying cannabis in America is a cash-only affair. While some dispensaries find innovative ways to help you part with your dollars digitally, Cookies keep it old school. Money spent, I collected my sealed bag and stepped back out into the blistering heat, feeling a strange sense of triumph. The whole retail experience was smooth and enjoyable, yet here I was feeling like I’d committed a perfectly respectable middle class crime. Living in a country where cannabis has always been stigmatised, I couldn’t help but feel a childish sense of naughtiness as I ripped open the discreet white envelope to survey my haul.
Of all the products purchased, the standout was the Lemmonade Lions Mane live resin cart. Not only did it pack a punch, it was brimming with terpenes and flavour. While having a monstrous THC content of almost 70%, there is a complementary balance of 5% CBD. This was the perfect cannabis for me, in this environment. Easy to whip out, have a quick blast and carry on with whatever madness was unfolding. The gummies too did their job, but truth be told, I’ve had nicer edibles. Still, they worked, and had our group in fits of giggles, which is more than enough when Vegas is going on all around you.
Where else in the world can you gamble at 4am, smoke a cigarette indoors and when you’ve finally had your dreams crushed at the card table order weed and women to your room? America is a strange beast, and Vegas is the vortex that attracts the weirdest and wildest of them all. It is a city of such grotesque excess, yet, in its unique way, it is both beautiful and alluring. Vegas is designed to capture your heart and empty the contents of your wallet. Chew you up, and spit you out. Despite it all, Vegas achieves that unquantifiable trick of leaving you desperate to go home yet wanting to come back for more the moment you leave. If anything, the addition of freely available cannabis is just what’s needed to counter the chaos in this crazy desert town.