My dashboard clock displayed 2:10 a.m., and I was stuck in a McDonald’s drive-thru sandwiched between a truck and a car, with shrubbery to my right. I looked to the intercom, where a voice minutes earlier had asked me to “please hold,” and I stared in a tired trance at a hand-written sign taped to it that read: The ONLY sauces we have are: ketchup, mustard and spicy mustard. ONLY.
I wanted to scream. I still had one dispensary left to photograph for my Day 1 coverage assignment for Leafly.com, one of my favorite freelance clients to work for these days. Legal recreational marijuana sales for adults age 21 and over in Nevada had begun at midnight.
After I languished 20 minutes in the drive-thru, an exhausted looking manager finally handed me my Happy Meal and giant cup of water (they were sold out of bottled water, too) with a sigh and a “thank you for being patient.” I thought that it was appropriate that the only place open at 2 a.m. near the dispensaries was short-handed and out of everything.
Hours earlier, I had started my evening at Essence Cannabis, the only dispensary that has a Las Vegas Strip address. There I found a growing line of excited individuals and loads of fellow journalists. I quickly got to work photographing the line outside, then went inside behind the counter to get close-ups of the goods: strains of marijuana in vials that resembled blood-collection tubes; square “sniff jars” – containers that let customers inspect samples at an intimate olfactory level; edibles in the form of cookies and gummies; and even colorful, swirly smoking pipes.
When I tried to leave Essence, my car was blocked by a delivery truck. It felt as though everyone in Las Vegas was right where I was at that exact moment. Eventually, I was able to move on to my next stop: Reef Dispensary.
At Reef, the vibe was quite different. I found myself in the center of a giant party. Characters passed me wearing neon clothes and wildly colored hair while Average Joe types scuffled about in their jeans and sneakers, maneuvering the crowded space, making way for disabled patrons. In addition to a hefty line, there were food trucks, weed-related sponsors with merchandise, and a large, rotating spotlight that screamed for miles: “This is the place to be!”
It was close to midnight, and media chaos ensued. I was trying to stay near the front door and state Sen. Tick Segerblom, whom I needed to photograph, when an unannounced firework show exploded in the dark sky. Of course it did. This beautiful firework shot would be best captured from across the street.
I made a quick decision to skip the firework photo I envisioned and stay close to the senator. Immediately after the fireworks ended, security ushered me and some 25 other members of the media through the door so we could capture the first marijuana purchase of the morning, by the senator. Did I mention Southern Nevada is a pretty cool place to live?
Having calculated carefully in advance, I knew I had roughly 30 minutes to get everything I needed inside the dispensary – shots of the senator, scene setters and a couple interview shots – before I had to edit for my 1:30 a.m. deadline.
I left Reef on schedule and decided that editing photos in my car in a shady, industrial area at 12:30 a.m. was not a good idea. I quickly drove to the nearest open place to set up shop, which happened to be the luxurious Palace State hotel-casino. Google it.
I scurried through the familiar casino to find an area I knew might have an open table and a sandwich shop where I could grab some much-needed water. The tables were there – full; the sandwich shop was there – empty and closed. I was more than disappointed, but then saw I that the nearby Sportsbook was deserted on the one side that contained rows of tables where, during the day, older gentlemen would sit with cigars and scorecards watching the ponies on TV.
I edited marijuana photos, undisturbed, for an hour next to another late-night worker at his computer. It was as good an office as I could have asked for, albeit I longed for a giant glass of water – or something stronger.
After I was content that my initial deadline was fulfilled, I drove from the casino to the Golden Arches across the street, blissfully unaware that I was about to be stranded in drive-thru limbo.
When I finally, graciously accepted my Happy Meal from Mr. Nice Manager, I chugged the entire cup of water, then stuffed a few fries into my mouth as I drove to Oasis, the last dispensary on my list. I sat in the dark parking lot eating nuggets until 2:45 a.m. Leafly needed my entire submits toned and captioned by 6 a.m., so I gave myself a new deadline: Be home by 4 a.m., which left me about 45 minutes at this last destination to make magic happen.
Oasis Medical Cannabis had clearly been a party earlier in the night. Nude models wearing paint wandered around with beers; a taco cart was closing up shop; people were socializing in the spotlights that lit the dark area where a strong line of people waited to get into the dispensary at nearly 3 a.m. In the parking lot later, I ran into an artist friend of mine, who had been painting at the party earlier in the evening. He had a gorgeous body-painted model with him, who was doing all sorts of acrobatics near a spotlight.
I made my way to security and into the dispensary. A first room held an abundance of people who had their ID’s checked and were waiting to get into The Coveted Room, a larger space that had bud specialists and product, where orders were placed on iPads. A waiting area with ATM branched off that room, where customers patiently waited for their orders to be filled. The whole process was a waiting room inside a bigger waiting room with a long waiting line outside. I have never seen so many people jammed into one space, except for perhaps at any Las Vegas branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Oasis’ customers were superbly more calm and friendly than any person I have ever encountered at the DMV. By the time I finished my shots – including some frames of my artist friend and his companion, it was nearing 4 a.m. I still had to do my final edits.
At home, I wearily completed my work. Sunrise was lighting the room as I crawled into bed to snuggle up to my snoozing husband at 5:30 a.m. – a half-hour before deadline.
Life, and news, kept happening. By the time my images were published, my invoice was sent in (including that McDonald’s meal as a write-off) and the valley was embracing its new law, Las Vegas was running out of pot. And during the first week marijuana was legal, The Reef (my second stop), suffered a brief fire caused by static electricity.
When I had accepted the assignment, I was concerned that I would not be able to edit and think clearly in the smoke- and aroma- filled early morning hours because I do not smoke marijuana. My editor, who also doesn’t smoke, assured me that I would be OK. “You’ll be fine. Oh, you’ll definitely smell like it, but you’ll be fine,” I recall her telling me. Her words were true. My car and camera pouches smelled of the sweet Mary Jane for a good time after. We had rain the other day, and I swear the humidity reignited it all again.
Whatever expectations a journalist has before going into an assignment, they are usually wrong. Day 1 wasn’t what I expected at all; it was much more. It was a great night’s work, an experience I will never forget. Also, if my future children have questions about marijuana, I am sure to have a story to tell.
* for story in Leafly: https://www.leafly.com/news/politics/las-vegas-live-coverage-nevadas-adult-use-cannabis-debut