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Desert Companion

Our Big Pot Feature


Photography by Brent Holmes

Recreational marijuana has been legal in Nevada for a year. If you’ve been putting off your first trip to a dispensary, now is a good time. Why? The dispensaries are firmly established, the range of products is abundant and diverse, and the industry’s customer-service protocol has evolved from Jeff Spicoli to Jeeves. Whether you want to dip in a toe or go for the full high dive, here’s our guide to valley cannabis culture. (And remember, be 21 or older!)

Which Dispensary Is Right for Me?


There are more than 60 dispensaries across Clark County, each offering its own distinct customer experience. Which is right for you? It depends on who you are and what you’re looking for.


Arts District Millennial: New Amsterdam Naturals

Heading Downtown to take in a movie or some theater, check out the galleries or just poke around the vintage shops and cocktail bars? Perhaps a stop at New Amsterdam Naturals is in order. Located in a low building with ’70s-style angled wood paneling and photo murals of the moon landing, it’s got a laid-back young staff and a ska/reggae soundtrack. A decent selection of flower, edibles and concentrates are available at reasonable prices, which get even better with locals’ and First Friday specials.

823 S. Third St., 702-527-7685


Upscale Suburbanite: The Apothecarium

The Apothecarium is as far from the Indian bedspread-and-incense stereotype as you can get. The space has marble floors, brass railings, crystal chandelier and photos of old Las Vegas — think of a bank or hotel. Sit in the waiting room, perusing product listings in leather folders that resemble steakhouse menus until your budtender leads you into the showroom and guides you through finding the right product, be it an NLV Vanilla Mint disposable vape pen or a Vert espresso toffee bar.

7885 W. Sahara Ave.,


Newbie/Nerd: Sahara Wellness

The lobby’s water feature and smooth jazz have customers relaxed before they even step onto the sales floor. With its small space and welcoming vibe, Sahara Wellness is an ideal spot for both the newbie consumer who isn’t sure what she wants and the weed nerd who wants to talk terpene percentages. If you’re a medical patient seeking a helpful tincture or gumdrop, there’s gentle guidance. If you’re looking to talk about the differences between the two new indica-leaning hybrids in stock, they’ve got that too.

420 E. Sahara Ave.,


Big Box Bazaar Shopper: NuWu

At almost 16,000 square feet, NuWu bills itself as the largest dispensary on the planet — so large that you place your order and get one of those restaurant reservation buzzers to let you know when to pick it up. There are hundreds of varieties of product: Flower, edibles, topicals, concentrates, and plenty of hats and T-shirts. NuWu also has an abundance of CBD items, quite a few pet products and fun Vegas-appropriate things like zebra-stripe vape pens and THC-infused bubble bath. For convenience, you can even order online and pick up at the drive-through window.

1235 Paiute Circle,


Hipster Aesthete: Blüm Desert Inn

The Desert Inn outpost of Blum is located in a mid-mod former bank building with expanses of glass and brick. The waiting room has sleek, low-slung sofas and giant, high-contrast photos of people smoking. The sales floor has metallic tile and hanging lamps, with budtenders in Warby-Parker glasses and black shirts who guide customers through their choices. Blüm has a wide array of edibles, with unusual choices like cold-brew coffee, honey and popcorn.

1130 E. Desert Inn Road,


Low-Key Sports Fan: Nevada Wellness Center

That case of Raiders memorabilia isn’t anticipating 2020 — it’s in honor of Nevada Wellness Center co-owner and former NFL player (and city councilman) Frank Hawkins. It’s just one of many displays of sports memorabilia, cannabis paraphernalia and store merch you can check out before heading into the “smell room.” The product range isn’t enormous, but it’s solid, with some unusual products like marijuana-spiked “Margarita” mocktails and cannabis-infused lavender-vanilla massage oil. Fast service, good prices and locals’ discounts add to the appeal.

3200 S. Valley View Blvd.,


Tourist: Essence on the Strip

Easy to find with a Las Vegas Boulevard address and green neon sign, Essence’s Strip location has been many a traveler’s first legal cannabis experience. The product array is impressive, with constantly updated computer screens letting people consider their options while they wait (and sometimes it can be a bit of a wait). If you want to take advantage of the reward program and many specials without trying to rush some guy from Arkansas through item #4 on his Sin City bucket list, you can always try one of Essences’ other outposts, or simply order ahead and pick up.

2307 Las Vegas Blvd. S.,


Ask a Budtender!

Ask a BudtenderThere’s a lot on the shelf at your local dispensary, from vapes to tinctures, milligrams to ounces, indica to sativa. We asked three experts what they’d recommend for everything from post-surgery to movie night.


I’m working on an art project. What will stimulate creativity, but also keep me focused?

“I would recommend a flower that is high in pinene and/or limonene terpenes. Pinene will help you stay focused and maintain alertness; limonene will put you in an uplifted mood and get that creativity going. Try a Sativa or a Sativa-dominant hybrid, like Mimosa, Dutch Treat Haze or Jack Herer.” — Kimberly Moore, Reef Dispensary


I don’t consume cannabis, but I hear it can help my arthritis. What do you suggest?

“You want Rick Simpson oil, also known as cannabis oil. It’s basically just the oil of the plant. Low-dose oil capsules, like a quarter-dose. Cannabis oil will relax the muscles, letting go of the nerves, so you’re not in pain.”— Rob Ruckus, Inyo Fine Cannabis


I’m going hiking. What would you recommend?

“I would recommend vape cartridges — they’re discreet. I also recommend some sativa pucks. They’re microdosed, about 10 milligrams per puck, so you can take one of those and feel energetic.” (Note that public consumption is not legal in Nevada.) — Deanna Martinez, Essence West

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I have insomnia, but I don’t like to smoke.

“Edibles work well for sleep because the effects are longer-lasting than from smoking. Tryke gummies come in a variety of flavors, including strawberry kiwi and green apple. Recommended dosage for sleep would be roughly 10-30 milligrams of THC depending on your tolerance. Tinctures with THC only and tinctures with a 1:1 ratio of CBD/THC are another option.” — Kimberly Moore, Reef Dispensary


I want to bring something to a dinner party. They’re not heavy users, but they do smoke.

“I’d recommend a disposable. It carries about 250 milligrams. It’s also good if you’re on vacation. It’s very discreet: You’re not bothering anybody, but you’re still getting a mind change.” — Deanna Martinez, Essence West


I’m having bad menstrual cramps. What can help?

“We just partnered with Evergreen Organics — they use our trim to make coconut oil and menstrual relief oil. I always recommend to my customers to place natural cotton tampons in some of that oil and stick them in the freezer, then when your monthly comes you use that tampon and it completely reduces those pain cramps.” — Deanna Martinez, Essence West


I’m going to a festival. What will last me all day?

“Edibles. I’d suggest gummies. Start with half of one, then wait two hours before you try another because it has to go all the way through your system before it hits your bloodstream. You can always take more, but you can’t un-take them.” (Note that public consumption is not legal in Nevada.) — Rob Ruckus, Inyo Fine Cannabis


I’m going to see a bombastic superhero blockbuster. What will make the movie more enjoyable?

“I recommend edibles or a hybrid strain/cartridge: If you dose an edible right you can enjoy your high throughout the entire movie. Smaller dosing will allow you to enjoy the movie without feeling groggy, or try to find a sativa-specific edible. Hybrid strains are another option, a pre-roll or vape cartridge.”
— Kimberly Moore, Reef Dispensary


I have a bad back.

“I would use a transdermal patch. It’s really helpful because it just sends out CBD and THC — the 1:1 ratio really helps with chronic pain. If people don’t like a patch, we have topicals that are also transdermal. There’s one called Nordic Goddess that’s a 1:1 ratio and also has the terpene limonene, which reduces inflammation.” — Deanna Martinez, Essence West


I’ve had stomach issues and sometimes feel nauseated. Can marijuana help?

“Cannabis is a great way to get rid of nausea. Try a strain that has a high amount of caryophyllene in it, which is the terpene that works best to fight nausea. I would also suggest to smoke or vape versus ingesting because it will act faster. Good strains to try would be GG#4, Blue Sherbet or Purple Kush.” — Kimberly Moore, Reef Dispensary


As a musician, what do you suggest for making or appreciating music?

“I’m old school. I like a joint. Roll a nice indica or an indica-leaning hybrid and just get into the groove.” — Rob Ruckus,
Inyo Fine Cannabis


A Pot 101 Glossary


Cannabinoids: The 80+ chemical compounds that can be found in the marijuana plant, including THC, CBD, terpenes and more.

CBD: A non-psychoactive compound that is one of the most prevalent cannabinoids. It’s been used to treat Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, arthritis, PTSD, and other ailments.

Concentrate: A more potent, extracted version of cannabis. The category covers pills, waxes, tinctures, vape cartridges

Cultivation: Where cannabis is grown. It looks like any other warehouse in town but, if you get close, you’ll notice a slightly different smell.

Dab: A method of smoking super-concentrated cannabis by heating up a “nail,” melting wax or resin on it and inhaling the vapor. Also a dance move done by everyone from Drake to Hillary Clinton.

Flower: Cannabis in its leafy green state, whether fresh or dried.

Hybrid: A type of cannabis created by cross-breeding indica and sativa strains. Popular hybrids include Blue Dream, Pineapple Express and Jilly Bean.

Indica: Indica plants tend to be shorter and more bud-heavy. They offer a relaxed, “body” high — helpful for sleep, pain or binge-watching TV shows. Popular indica strains include Lavender, Kosher Kush and King Louis XII.

Kief: The powdery resin that can be sifted from marijuana buds. It can be sprinkled on joints or compacted into hash.

Pre-roll: An already-rolled joint, sometimes dusted with kief or concentrate.

Sativa: Sativa are taller plants with narrow leaves. The sativa high is generally more energetic and cerebral — think the house-cleaning, chatty, creative kind. Popular sativas include Acapulco Gold, Strawberry Cough and Chocolope.

Shatter: Another form of concentrated cannabis, formed into a glassy sheet that breaks into pieces. You dab it.

Strain: A specific breed of cannabis with its own name and characteristics, both of which are often derived from the strains it comes from. E.g., Green Queen comes from Green Crack and Space Queen.

Terpene: A class of organic hydrocarbons that are found in a variety of plants, including marijuana, that have particular scents, flavors or effects. They include relaxing, musty myrcene, citrusy, mood-elevating limonene, anti-inflammatory linalool, etc.

THC: One of the main cannabinoids in marijuana — the psychoactive one that makes you “high.”

Tip: That jar of singles at the dispensary doesn’t fill itself: If your budtender spends 10 minutes finding


How Those Gardens Grow

“We are the standard-bearers for the country — our position gives us a unique opportunity to be pioneers,” says Aaron McCrary of Zion Gardens cannabis cultivation. The Silver State’s green rush has spawned over 100 grow facilities, all sharing a mission to create the best product, but each in their own way.

Zion Gardens in North Las Vegas is one of the smaller grows in the valley, raising plants in shipping container-style pods that McCrary has custom-designed. “Hand-potted, hand-watered. We really want to emphasize a human relationship with the plant,” he says. “We aren’t the massive producer, so we want to make a high-quality product. A big part of that is pest and pathogen control and a lot of that is about maintaining a one-on-one relationship to the plant.

“I come from Seattle and Seattle is one of the hotbeds that really embraces a microbrew culture,” he continues. “So we view ourselves as a micro-grow.” He also points out that Zion Gardens’ smaller size means he can experiment more, and create strains to specific specs. “With diversified growing spaces, we can meet certain consumer demands flexibly. If a dispensary said, ‘Hey, we’d love a container full of non-till, LED-grown organic flower,’ we can easily convert a space.’”

At the other end of the spectrum, Flora Vega is one of the largest grows in Southern Nevada, at over 40,000 square feet with a herd of employees shepherding the plants through every stage. “There was something like 8,500 pounds sold in Nevada last month and we’re growing about 700 pounds a month,” says General Manager Nick Puliz. “Overall, rec basically tripled our business from medical. That was huge.”

Plants are cycled through seedling, vegetative and flower stages in vast rooms with computer displays by the doors indicating the state of the greenery within. Once harvested, plants are dried, trimmed, and then packaged. Like most cultivations, there is room to grow at Flora Vega. “We have another 24,000 square feet ready to expand,” says Puliz, but he’d like to grow in another direction first. “I don’t have my own outlet — that’s a whole different dynamic from somebody who’s a vertical with their own dispensary.” Flora Vega hopes to get one when the next round of licensing comes up later this year.

“Matrix is in a very different groove than a lot of people out there. They have this kind of ‘take over the world’ mentality and that’s not us,” says Evan Marder, COO of Matrix cultivations. Still, the brand has taken over a fair amount of dispensary shelf space with its line of flower and an assortment of concentrates and vape cartridges, and Marder is looking to add gummies to the list.

Of course, more product requires more space. “We’re in the process of trying to expand our grow because we have more room at our facility to build out. So we’re hoping to build out bloomrooms and have more grow space and expanding into other states, eventually.” Marder is excited by the industry’s increasing acceptance, even if he didn’t quite anticipate it. “I’ve loved cannabis since I was a teenager, so that’s a long time. But I had to keep it under wraps and people looked down on it — it’s very different now.”


Chefs Gone Mild

Chefs gone mild

Edible Acres chef Victoria Babbitt.  Photo by Brent Holmes

How the cannabis industry created a new type of culinary talent

Edible GummiesWhen you think of a marijuana edible, crumbly pot brownies or off-tasting Rice Krispie treats spring to mind. You don’t think of French macarons, frosting-drizzled tea cakes or salted pistachio mint candy bars — but that’s what the modern edible is. As more chefs with traditional backgrounds enter the cannabis space, we’ve seen an influx of products that look and taste just as good as their conventional counterparts.

(Fresh cannabis gummies, pictured right)

“I wasn’t a smoker,” says Victoria Babbitt, edibles chef at Acres dispensary, “I was 23 when I smoked for the first time.” She began baking at 12 and went to culinary school, but what drew her into the cannabis industry? “I’m a Cancer, I’m a natural nurturer, so the idea of doing something I love and incorporating a great ingredient that can help people? Yeah!” She had been working at a bakery in Arizona when she was approached to work for an edibles company, helped develop products for them, then moved to Nevada to work at Acres.

“I’ve received experience cooking up and down the Strip from small bakeries to Michelin-rated restaurants,” says Dylan Eldridge, Babbitt’s’ co-chef at Acres. “I left the industry for a couple of years, but I missed that human interaction. And then I began to work my way into the cannabis industry.” He and Babbitt are developing a new line of edibles, from candy to desserts. Babbitt also wants to take on the challenge of creating cannabis-infused savory foods, condiments, and sauces.

That challenge is what attracts many chefs to the cannabis realm. “One thing I lacked in my culinary career before I entered the industry was a challenge,” says Melissa Parks, a consultant who created products for Vert edibles. Parks studied at Johnson & Wales, worked in research and development for General Mills and at a variety of restaurants, but says that “working with cannabis has refined me as a chef.” Parks also authored a cookbook, Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking Cannabis, and she’s currently working on a second volume.

The complexities of dosing, flavor profiles, working with infused oils and butters — it’s a challenge many chefs welcome. Parks notes that people may feel more comfortable consuming “an edible from somebody who has degrees in these sciences and nutrition and has been cooking for years,” she says, “but you have to have that heart and that soul to combine with that expertise.”

That expertise is also valuable once the cupcake leaves the kitchen, so to speak. Rick Scarpello, CEO of Colorado-based Incredibles, had been working in the food industry for over two decades, creating bread for restaurants and grocery stores, before he got into cannabis. “There is a process by which you keep food safe, and I can bring that into the cannabis world. They’re still making products that you stick in your mouth and swallow.”

Part of the appeal of cooking with cannabis is the evolution of the industry and the central ingredient. “Now that I know what’s possible, now that I understand the math and the dosing,” says Babbitt, “I look at everything and go, ‘I could dose that, I could dose that.’”

“I love hearing from people who have consumed products I’ve made that they have enjoyed, that have helped them achieve a comfort level,” says cookbook author Parks. “That’s why I do what I do.”


Take Your Medicine: The Advent of CBD

The operative word in Nevada’s green rush is “recreational,” but many are learning about the medicinal qualities of cannabis  for the first time.

“Each day we are hearing about people’s lives that have been changed — and saved — by the healing properties of cannabidiol,” says Mike Pizzo of Reef Dispensaries. Cannabidiol, aka CBD, is one of the non-psychoactive components in marijuana, and has been used to aid everything from insomnia or inflammation to arthritis or anxiety. “We started off as a medical marijuana dispensary, so it has always been important to us to remember the patients and to offer products that cater directly to them.” Reef has developed its own CBD line of tinctures, edibles and flower.

Rob Ruckus of Inyo Fine Cannabis is developing a line of cannabis oil capsules. “Everything on the planet with a spine has an endocannabinoid system and it fuels our immune system,” he explains, and cannabis oil is a way to concentrate the plant’s beneficial effects. He got interested in cannabis and developed the oil years ago when a friend’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer. The little girl who wasn’t supposed to live past five but is still running around today. “Unlike chemo and radiation that target the area and destroy all the good and bad cells in the area, this just makes the body strong enough that it attacks bad cells that don’t belong there,” he says. “I’ve seen it used for everything from thyroid conditions to pain management, I’ve seen an epileptic go from 1,000 seizures a month down to, like, four. It’s the best medicine. The body has an endocannabinoid system for a reason.”

Ruckus would like to see another medical angle explored. “Right after October 1, my (dispensary) was full of guys in veterans caps. It had triggered their PTSD. That’s why we need consumption lounges — these guys needed a place where they could sit together, smoke a joint and talk about it.” He’d like to see spaces where not only veterans, but other patients can discuss their issues and share information. For these patients, cannabis “may not fix everything, but it can make life bearable again,” he says, “and that makes a world of difference.”


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