LAS VEGAS | Nevada is known for letting just about anything slide, whether it's booze, bets or brothels. But even here there are limits.
It has been legal to smoke pot to treat illness for 10 years. But don't think about selling it. Lately, federal agents and local police have taken notice, raiding several pot shops in and around Sin City.
All of it has pot activists scratching their heads: How is a state that has long lured visitors with promises of unconstrained debauchery stricter with pot than its more wholesome neighbors in Colorado, Arizona and California?
"I really thought they would leave us alone," said Pierre Werner, whose family's pot shop was raided and who now faces federal charges. "No one should go to prison for a plant."
Political leaders and historians say these activists don't know Nevada. Sure, they say, the state has libertarian leanings and is generally willing to prosper from activities that most states have declared repugnant.
For many, however, pot is for hippies. And Nevada, borne in the rugged days of the Wild West, is no place for hippies.
"The attitude was real men drank, whored and gambled — these are the vices of frontier men and women," said Guy Rocha, Nevada's former archivist. "When it comes to drugs, Nevada has looked at it as, 'that's what those wild people in California do, or New York or Oregon.'"
Nevada passed its medical marijuana law in 2000, four years after California passed its first-in-the-nation program. In all, 15 states and the District of Columbia allow it.
Advocates say the strict Nevada law makes it nearly impossible to legally smoke pot. Patients cannot buy or sell marijuana and can only grow seven plants for personal use. Nevada's health department, which regulates medical marijuana, tells patients it cannot provide information about how to grow cannabis.
During the past year, at least 27 marijuana shops have opened in Las Vegas, according to weedmaps.com, an online dispensary and physician locator service.
The discreet outposts feature lengthy menus with whimsical names such as the Incredible Hulk, Purple Monster, Green Cheese and Pineapple Crack. Transactions are called donations, not purchases. Customers are patients. Marijuana is medicine.
Police, however, still means trouble.
The stores, many saying they are referral services for doctors willing to recommend marijuana, were largely left alone at first. Then came reports that undercover police officers were making buys at the dispensaries. In September, it was official. Local and federal investigators served search warrants at several marijuana shops in and around Las Vegas.
Law enforcement officials refuse to discuss the raids, saying the investigations remained open. They would not say what prompted the crackdown.
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, a martini-drinking advocate of sex tourism, said he is open to legalizing marijuana, but doesn't think voters are going to anytime soon.
"The people are not ready, he said, "no matter how we are characterized."