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Paiute Tribe Corners Cannabis Lounge Market

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Rachel Christiansen

The first – and only -- marijuana tasting room in Nevada opened in October. 

The NuWu Cannabis Tasting Room will remain the sole public business where customers can legally consume marijuana at least until 2021. 

That’s when a hold on pot lounges passed by state lawmakers this year will expire. 

But the NuWu lounge sits on land owned by the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, which is a sovereign nation. The tasting room opens up to NuWu’s 16,000-square-foot cannabis superstore.

Benny Tso is a manager at NuWu's tasting room and a tribe member. He said an average of about 3,000 people visit the superstore every day. The drive-thru alone sees about 700 people.

He said when they first went to the tribal council about creating the tasting room, there was some push back because it was pushing the envelope on a relatively new business.

But after talking with tribal lawyers, along with city and county officials, they decided it could be done because they are a sovereign nation.

Tso said one of the biggest challenges after getting approval from the tribe was just wrapping his head around the fact that people could consume marijuana in the building.

“That was kind of the biggest step, other than ... just collaborating with the team, making sure that we provide a safe environment, providing what our customers want and having that level of experience,” he said.

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The tasting room has hired servers with a lot of knowledge about cannabis. Mike Cardenas is one of those servers.

He started in the medical marijuana arena. Now, he guides the customers at NuWu towards the product that will best suit what they're looking for, from the relief of symptoms of an illness to a simple high.

Cardenas said some times people come into the tasting room believing they can handle anything.

“That’s when our job here comes into play because we got to let them know exactly what they’re looking at," he said, "It’s not just fun and games. If you take it serious[ly], you get great results. If you take it like its just a game, you could end up on the couch sleeping or [have] a bad experience.”

Manager Danielle Steel agreed. 

“We talk to people. We make sure that we guide the right experience for them and that they’re not overdoing it,” she said.

One of the problems is people from other states who might be regular users of marijuana but aren't aware that legal cannabis is a higher quality and potency than black-market product.

“That’s one of the reasons why the tasting room is such an important part of Las Vegas at this point in time ... to show there is a difference,” Tso said.

The staff also makes sure not to serve people who are intoxicated with alcohol. 

Steel said the serving sizes are also small and controlled so people can't overconsume. The servers load the bongs with only a small amount and pre-rolled joints are given out one at a time.

Tso is not concerned about other lounges when they are allowed to be set up in the state. He welcomes the competition. 

Riana Durett is the executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association. She said businesses are already getting ready for the change in regulation, which she expects to happen in 2021. 

Durett said NuWu will be a roadmap to other businesses.

“One of the biggest concerns was how to keep out illegal market product and I think NuWu has done a good job,” she said.

Durett said the size of the space at the tasting room and the number of employees makes it easy to monitor. And after looking at a consumption lounge in San Francisco, Durett believes it is unlikely a lounge could exist without being attached to a dispensary like NuWu's model.

The name NuWu is not just a made-up collection of letters. It is actually the Paiute name for the Southern Paiute people. Tso said it means "people here."

Tso said the goal of creating the dispensary and the tasting room is to fund the services the tribe provides and expand the enrollment of the tribe. 

“By opening NuWu and the tasting lounge, whatever economic development opportunities that may come to us that is going to prolong our tribe,” he said.

The tribe only has 55 members now, but with more money, he hopes they can expand membership and provide more services like health care, education and infrastructure to 150 to 200 more qualified tribe members.

 

Guests

Benny Tso, manager, NuWu tasting room; Mike Cardenas, server, NuWu tasting room; Danielle Steel, manager, NuWu; Riana Durett, executive director, Nevada Dispensary Association 

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