Straight up: Nevada has done cannabis legalization hella better than California has so far.
Preface: I’m only comparing Nevada and California because they’re the two states with which I have the most legal cannabis experience.
As a kid coming from a 3,000-person town in starry-nighted Michigan, California was kind of considered that far away oasis of a land of progress where everybody has flowers in their hair, shares the stoke, dreams into fruition innovative-ass breakthroughs and overdoses on Vitamin D. It was also thought to be the place where you’d probably find cannabis plants growing on your apartment complex neighbors windowsill because it’s all good.
This reputation was reinforced back in 1972 when California became the first state in the nation to attempt to abolish cannabis laws with ballot initiative Proposition 19. The bill failed to pass, but California went on to become the first state to legalize medical cannabis by passing Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.
After living here for almost a decade, my personal experiences have dimmed that glint just slightly. Recreational cannabis has been legal since 2016 with the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, Proposition 64, but different areas of the state have embraced legalization more than others. Depending on where you are in California, dispensaries can be plentiful to few and far between in secret, unmarked buildings.
In Southern California, much of Riverside County depends on locally run delivery services. I used to be a driver for one. Our headquarters was in a rusty trailer with no air con, off of a dirt road that belonged more to the coyotes than us. It was cash only. Of course, the discreet environment in which we operated didn’t mean the business wasn’t respectable. In a recreationally legal state, we still had to function stealthily to stay open. As a customer, it was common for me to visit a dispensary in a difficult to locate address, then have that same dispensary move next door with the same staff but a different name, then have them move to the building next to the psychic, then shut down and move to the next town, leaving someone in an Escalade at the old spot to hand out cards for the new address “just 5 miles from here.”
In swaths of Orange County, it’s a similar experience. Sure, there’s People’s OC off of I-5, a massive two-story commercial dispensary experience, and delivery services such as Eaze are active, but most dispensaries are still mega low-key. Many of them operate with the guise of calling themselves “churches.” Check-in counters are equipped with two way mirrors with a 3-inch clearance to slip your identification under and a laminated sign with the corners still curling somehow reminding you, “Do NOT look under the glass!” You’re then buzzed into the next room in which a gaggle of fold-up chairs face a modest, roll-away podium. This reverent scene is completed with holy framed and wall hung cursive words such as “Pray” and “Love” and “Happy Shatterday.” Cannabis is considered their sacrament, according to the Archdiocese of their Weedmaps page.
Speaking to both lifelong and transplanted Californians, I’ve heard on a myriad of occasions that a stigma revolving marijuana has still be felt in parts of the state.
Now, cross the border into The Silver State. I have family that lives outside of Las Vegas, so I’ve been fortunate enough to visit regularly. Nevada passed recreational legalization with the Initiative to Regulate and Tax Marijuana in the same year as their Golden neighbor. Since then, the state has just seemed to embrace change more swiftly. Personally, my dispensary experience has been one of ease and welcoming vibes. More like checking into a well-themed escape room than checking into a sketchy, fluorescently lit hostel. We’re talking signs above the building, eye contact, bottom lit commercial display cases, aroma-sampling cases, overhead television menus with dope graphics and transitions and a wide selection of quality, tested products (no Dank Vapes carts up in here). Just a couple of miles off of the Las Vegas Strip, Planet 13, a 112,000 square foot dispensary, collection of art installations, interactive displays and soon-to-come cannabis cafe, is the largest of its kind in the world.
That same stigma just doesn’t feel as heavy, or even existent, when you head four hours east of California.
But for real, I’m not complaining. I mean, it’s all good. Sure the atmospheres are different but I’m by no means saying that cannabis is difficult to come by in California. If anything, it just speaks to how California’s love for hefty regulations makes it difficult for many dispensary companies to either qualify for legal operations and/or compete with illicit market price points.
Until all that gets squared, I’d say Nevada is the vibe.