Las Vegas Medical Marijuana Dispensaries: Neon Lights Not Required


Most who live outside of Nevada do not know that businesses located on Las Vegas Boulevard between Washington and Sahara avenues are required to have neon or animated signs. What’s the only industry seemingly exempt from this requirement on the Boulevard? Medical marijuana.

Las Vegas’s Scenic Byway Plan mandates that all establishments on that part of the Boulevard have signs with 75% neon to “preserve the road’s storied history as a glowing desert landmark.” These neon signs have become so iconic and endemic to Vegas culture, that the City can actually request Federal grants to pay for new neon signs to “enhance the street’s glowing aesthetic.”

But Sin City is not going to require Boulevard dispensaries have neon or animated signs in part because Las Vegas’s own land use code states that a dispensary’s sign cannot exceed 30 square feet and must be “internally illuminated, with the use of neon prohibited.” The City’s reasoning for the neon-opt-out is that pharmacies don’t do day-glo signage and, if we are to take medical marijuana seriously, dispensaries should also be ditching the neon. Instead, dispensaries must maintain a “professional” and “medical” appearance, rather than a “Las Vegas appearance,” as one planning consultant described it to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Interestingly enough, a Walgreens pharmacy on the Boulevard near the new SLS Las Vegas was not exempt from the neon sign directive and that Walgreens will have a sign at least 75% neon, leading some to assert that the City is giving an unfair advantage to medical marijuana businesspeople by exempting them from the expensive neon signage requirements.

But exempting medical marijuana dispensaries from the neon sign requirement does make sense if we are going to treat cannabis as a legitimate medicine, not as a tourist attraction. All this does beg the question as to whether Las Vegas will maintain this exemption if the State legalizes adult use marijuana in 2016. Something tells us as cannabis business lawyers that if Nevada does legalize adult use marijuana (and we think it will in relatively short order), some of the biggest neon signs near the Strip will eventually put a whole new spin on cannabis, right between animated ads for Cirque du Soleil shows and all-you-can-eat-buffets.

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