If you enter Nevada by highway from California, you can exit Interstate 80 in Reno, gamble addictively in raucous casinos while breathing other people’s cigarette smoke, and drink shots of lethally pure grain alcohol.
Then you can take a taxi through sagebrush to the nearby Mustang Ranch, one of many licensed, state-inspected brothels, and temporarily rent pleasurable space inside somebody else’s body.
It’s all legal, encouraged, and a source of tax revenues in Nevada, a Wild West landscape where Las Vegas blooms like a tart in the barren desert, using water pilfered from the dammed and drained Colorado River.
But hold on just a gosh darned minute.
If you’d bet money that a state that lets its citizens rent hookers and gamble away their life’s savings also lets them enjoy God’s favorite healing herb, you’d be a losing bettor.
Until a year ago, possession of any amount of marijuana in Nevada was a felony. Police had no choice but to arrest tourists and residents caught with any amount of herb; nearly 6,000 Nevadans were arrested for pot in 1999.
The state’s laws have loosened a bit since then (less than an ounce of pot is now chargeable as a misdemeanor), but if proponents of a Nevada ballot initiative constitutional amendment called Question 9 have their way with voters in November this year, and again in 2004, Nevada will have the most progressive marijuana laws in the country.
Nevadans must vote twice to pass a ballot initiative ? they did so in 1998 and 2000 to enact the state’s progressive medical marijuana law. But Question 9, designed and promoted by a group called Nevadans For Responsible Law Enforcement (NRLE), would give Nevadans a specific constitutional right to privately possess less than three ounces of marijuana.
Question 9’s successful passage would also require Nevada’s Legislature to regulate the cultivation, taxation, sale and distribution of marijuana to adult (over-21) Nevadans. The initiative stipulates that the marijuana will be taxed at 37%, identical to the tax currently levied on chewing tobacco and cigars. The state would also have to create a system for medical users to buy lower cost medical buds.
The initiative contains limits too. Marijuana use in a park or other public place is prohibited, as is toking up while driving.
Billy Rogers is the lead spokesperson for NRLE, which is affiliated with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). He says implementation of NRLE’s agenda would generate millions of dollars in tax revenue, assist farmers, and prevent police, prosecutors and judges from wasting valuable time on minor marijuana offenses.
Rogers is a suave, eloquent advocate with 20 years experience running political campaigns.
Surprisingly, he says he’s glad that DEA big man Asa Hutchinson and drug czar John Walters have visited Nevada to campaign against Question 9 by telling citizens that decriminalizing marijuana would ruin the morals and health of their state.
“Nevadans are independent-minded,” Rogers explains. “They don’t like it when federal officials try to tell them what to do. They might vote for Question 9 just to show their independence from Washington, DC.”
When Rogers talked to us eight weeks before the election, he said Question 9’s passage was an “even money” situation.
“It’s 50-50,” he said, referring to the latest polling numbers. “We win in all groups under age 65. The people over age 65 have probably never used marijuana. In their mind, it’s the same as heroin, meth and LSD.”
Despite federal fiddling, and flip-flops by Nevada police (who privately admit that marijuana laws are a waste of time while publicly embarrassing themselves trying to find a defensible position on Question 9), Rogers believes that support from young Nevadans, as well as financial assistance provided by backers like Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery, will ultimately result in a hard-fought victory on election day. Peter Lewis, CEO of Ohio’s Progressive Corporation Insurance, has pledged to match every donation made to the initiative.
Is Rogers worried that the feds will invade Nevada (as they’ve done in med-pot states like California) if the desert state begins implementing its newly-mandated marijuana program in 2005?
“We will be in a strong position here,” Rogers argues. “Our proposal makes it a constitutional right to possess marijuana in small quantities. We believe that a state constitutional right to possess marijuana will be seen by courts as more important than a federal law against it. I’d bet on that.”
? Nevadans For Responsible Law Enforcement: www.nrle.org
Voting for freedom
by Brooke Thorsteinson
Nevada’s not the only state to be voting on drug policy issues this November. Here’s a look at some other ballot initiatives across the USA.
Proposition 203 would allow those with a doctor’s recommendation to have and use marijuana. Anyone with a doctor’s note would be allowed to get free medical pot from the stash of seized drugs at the State Department of Public Safety. The proposition would also make possession under two ounces a $250 fine.
Previous initiatives passed in 1996 and 1998 allowed doctors to prescribe marijuana, but the DEA threatened to revoke the licences of any doctors who dared to do so. That’s why this initiative only requires a doctor’s recommendation and also forces the state to dispense the medical pot.
Michigan’s ballot initiative would provide treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent first or second-time drug offenders. Backers of the plan submitted more than 450,000
signatures to state elections officials. The group needed 300,000.
Ballot questions in this state will be used to guage public opinion on the subject of making possession under one ounce of marijuana a civil violation with a maximum fine of $100, instead of criminal penalties. It will also ask the public whether med-pot patients, with a doctor’s recommendation, may possess and grow small amounts of cannabis for themselves.
The high-profile initiative for this state, like Michigan, requires treatment for offenders as opposed to jail time. A host of local political leaders oppose the plan. They say it will weaken Ohio’s current system, which involves already mandatory treatment and the threat of jail time to “help” drug users overcome addiction. This recommendation, however, seems moot as the legislature decriminalized marijuana in Ohio 25 years ago.
Instead of proposing a change to the marijuana laws, this measure calls for Seattle police to make personal pot possession by adults their lowest priority. It would also require police and the City Attorney’s Office to report prosecutions to a Marijuana Policy Review Panel. The panel, comprised of 11 people, would evaluate the effects of the ordinance after five years. Some council members have shown support for the initiative.