The Las Vegas Cannabis Market: Underground vs. Dispensaries


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Contributor: Akil The Real Deal

Hopes & Dreams for the Weed Scene

My understanding of the recreational and healing properties of cannabis began about a decade ago. I was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and some of my more precocious friends began smoking weed in middle school and high school. 

More than once, I would fall into the peer pressure of inhaling this illicit substance, yet I never experienced a high. I did not get high until I hit Grape Ape out of a gravity bong, with an upperclassman, after my college finals. I vividly remember how the sensation was not what I expected because my high school health classes and D.A.R.E. programs. 

How Dispensaries Differ From Black Market Operations In Las Vegas

“This is a good thing. They lied to me!” I thought, as my corporeal being entered a state of zen. My body felt weightless, and sometimes, in a free fall. Furthermore, the high gave me a new sense of humor. We were watching the American Drama Series, Boardwalk Empire, and I thought that was the funniest situational comedy ever produced!

This was the beginning of my career as a cannabis connoisseur. I remember the stress of finding a safe and secure place to get high, away from authority. Often, my fellow weed warriors and I would fantasize about the day when weed was legalized, and we’d no longer have to hide our use of the plant. I would dream of shopping, and being able to have a variety of strains, instead of whatever the dealer had when I hit him up. 

But, mostly, I wanted to shed the stigma of using cannabis — to be proud and uninhibited in my use.

SEE ALSO: What To Know Before Investing In Cannabis

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Dispensaries vs. Underground

Ten years later, medicinal cannabis use is legal in my home state of Ohio. And now, I am blessed to live in Las Vegas, a state in which medicinal and recreational use of marijuana are legalized! 

The variety of dispensaries in Nevada cater to many facets of cannabis culture. There are large national franchises in humongous facilities with cutting edge technology, smaller locally-owned unique shops that focus on local products, and dispensaries that concentrate on delivering medicinal products to patients. 

That being said, I cannot help but continually weigh the opportunity costs of purchasing my cannabis at the dispensary compared to dealing with the underground market.  

Recently, I attended a Las Vegas underground cannabis market event called the Dabathon Cup: PreRoll Party, and some of my experiences in this “green market” made me never want to visit a dispensary again. In my contemplation to determine which experience is better, I have decided to compare and contrast both of them.

SEE ALSO: How Cannabis Can Help Brain Cancer Patients Live Longer

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Safety & Privacy

Perhaps, the most obvious difference between the legal and underworld is safety. 

Whether I visit Sahara Wellness or Planet 13, every dispensary in Nevada has security staffed on location. When I first began to visit Amsterdam Naturals, the affable security guards would intimidate me because of the large automatic rifles they would carry. 

Today, I rarely see security equipped with large firearms like you’d see in Call of Duty Modern Warfare, but they remain ubiquitous in legalized cannabis markets. The presence of security discourages thieves from attacking shoppers post-purchase. In the same way, the cannabis merchants are less likely to suffer a loss.

The underground market differs. For example, I was required to display my digital ticket to three dudes in casual clothing outside of the private venue door for the Dabathon Cup: Preroll Party.  I told the “security” I bought my ticket on Eventbrite, and reached for my cellular device. Before I could present the admission they waved me in without checking. I did not see any other people working security inside the party, and assumed that there was some unspoken trust, or unseen weapons the dealers were packing for protection.

Before one can even see the marijuana merchandise, legal proof of identification, such as a driver’s license, must be presented at legal cannabis marketplaces in Las Vegas. I never lingered on this part of the dispensary experience, as I assumed it was the management’s method of verifying I am of legal age to enter and buy legal weed

I began to examine this identification process deeper when a friend shared his suspicions about the government keeping tabs on him. Another friend was concerned when she took her mom to visit a dispensary. Even though she had no intent to buy, or smoke, weed with her mother, she feared that her employer would know that she was at the dispensary, and take unfair action against her.

On the other hand, I have never had a discreet cannabis connection ask to see my Nevada State license. I do not remember a plug refusing to sell me dank, because of my age, either. The only thing required for the Preroll Party was a ticket, and the hosts did not even bother to check mine. 

Still, there might be fear of law enforcement, or the government, intervening when meeting a new “drug dealer” for the first time to cop some green. Just as an underworld cannabis salesperson may be afraid of being robbed (or snitched on) when meeting someone new. As a cannabis buyer, it can be an anxious situation when making a rendezvous with an unverified dealer. I recall the horror stories of my friends getting robbed, or given oregano instead of cannabis!

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Transactions

Automated teller machines, like security, are ever present at weed marketplaces because of the federal banks’ stance on not entering the industry. Cash-only transactions are required at Las Vegas Dispensaries. The only exception I have witnessed is at the MedMen location in Downtown Las Vegas, that accepts my debit card for transactions. 

Cash being the primary accepted currency, is a practice shared by weed apothecaries and underground dealers. Still, I recognized some of the enterprising minds at the private Preroll Party were cleverly accepting cash app payments, in addition to cash.

The Dabathon Cup Preroll Party was my first time witnessing such a huge quantity of cannabis outside of a licensed facility. Gigantic bags of flower, and piles of concentrates were on display at foldable tables, with ludicrously low prices that made me never want to visit a dispensary again. 

As I began shopping for grams and eighths of green, I came to the epiphany that I would pay double the price at a licensed cannabis retailer! Even more shocking were the edible, vaporizer, and concentrate prices that were almost 75% less expensive than what I see at the dispensaries! 

I decided to purchase 2500mg Tetrahydrocannabinol Cannabis Sippin Strawberry syrup because I would never be able to purchase a product this potent at a Las Vegas dispensary, especially as a recreational guest. 

In my experience, edibles, beverages, and syrups above 100mg are only available to medicinal patients. To “put the kief on the blunt,” so to speak, the vendor gifted my sizzurp for free! I could never receive a cannabis product for free at a dispensary. Even when I redeem a buy one get one deal, or earn enough loyalty points for a free ounce. The dispensary will still have to charge a penny!

SEE ALSO: How Marijuana Can Help The Brain Recover From Injuries

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Education & Information

The increase in prices I experience at dispensaries coincide with the increase in reliable information and variety of products. Not only do I have the ability to choose between flowers, edibles, concentrates, vaporizers, pre-rolls, topicals, and even CBD at the dispensary, but there are also a multitude of different brands, both domestic and imported. 

Most importantly, the lab results from dispensary products are made available to me. This allows me to know the strain’s details, cannabinoid information, and harvest data, plus final packaging dates. Furthermore, I value the opportunity to speak with a budtender that has experience, and is able to give a practical description of the item’s potency and appeal. 

More than often, when one makes an underground cannabis deal, the seller may only have one strain to sell. I consider it rare if my dealer has several different products to offer. And, on the occasions that the runner has more than one option, the choices will be the same type of product. Three different strains of flower, for example, as opposed to flower, concentrates, and/or edibles. 

Obviously, there are exceptions to this generalization. I am acquainted with a black market dealer in Las Vegas that uses business cards, and delivers anywhere in the Valley. The menu includes flower, pre-rolls, edibles, and carts — all with a spectrum of flavors. The stock changes daily, and the menu is only available via text message.

Hospitality & Service

I was a unique guest at the private Preroll Party event. Not only because it was my first private party, but also because I was curious about more than just the product’s price. Most vendors were happy to answer questions about their motivation, manufacture process, safety, and sources. Many of the exhibitors promised that their goods were lab tested, but none were able to show me data.  

I could tell that some representatives were annoyed by my questions. Especially, if my curiosity did not ultimately lead to a purchase. In my observations, the sellers without interest in engaging me in conversation, were too preoccupied with making money. On the other hand, whenever I had the opportunity to talk with the brand creator, or boss, it was quite simple to uncover the brand’s mission and background. I relished the opportunity to speak directly with the person that cultivated and harvested the flower.

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2 thoughts on “The Las Vegas Cannabis Market: Underground vs. Dispensaries”

  1. Thank you for the well researched article, presenting both sides.

    While the underground market/party might have better prices, you never know what you’re going to get. The lab results/proof and education presented by licensed legal dispensaries comes at a price.
    There is also the legal issue purchasing at such an underground party, or distributor. Sure, it’s 100% legal for anyone over 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, but buying it without paying the requisite taxes…🤔
    I guess it’s like the bootlegging days of alcohol or cigarettes.

    There’s pluses and minuses to both. Thank you for presenting them.

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