Nevada lawmakers hear case for medical marijuana
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) – The issue of letting seriously ill Nevadans use marijuana to relieve their symptoms was rehashed Monday by state lawmakers.
”The public is much smarter than we think. They know we’re not condoning drug use,” Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, told the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. ”They recognize some treatments that work.”
Giunchigliani’s AB453 authorizes medical use of marijuana and decriminalizes possession of small amounts of pot.
The bill would create a state registry for all patients whose doctors recommend they use marijuana for medical reasons. People with cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, severe pain and nausea would be eligible for a marijuana user card.
”It’s for people with illnesses,” Giunchigliani said. ”It’s not just for anyone.”
Assemblywoman Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, was skeptical of the plan – particularly reducing the penalty for possession on one ounce or less of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor.
”I’m concerned that we’re sending the wrong message,” she said. ”We’re telling them it’s OK to have a little bit because it’s not a big deal.”
”It’s still a crime,” Giunchigliani countered. ”A person is still going to get busted if they have it, and if trafficking, still going to get busted with a felony.”
Nevada imposes some of the harshest penalties in the nation for possession of small quantities of marijuana.
Under AB453, a person with an ounce or less of marijuana would be charged with a misdemeanor and punished by a fine of no more than $600. A second offense would result in a higher fine and assignment to a treatment or rehabilitation program. Third-time offenders would be charged with a gross misdemeanor and have to pay an even steeper fine.
Assemblywoman Vonne Chowning, D-North Las Vegas, asked why the state hasn’t taken a closer look at Marinol, a synthetic version of marijuana to counter some symptoms of AIDS and other serious illnesses.
”Some things work for somebody, some things don’t,” Giunchigliani explained.
Other panelists were concerned about marijuana usage leading to addiction and other drugs.
”I don’t believe marijuana is a gateway drug. Harder drugs are,” Giunchigliani said.
Among the conditions for a patient to get approval for medical marijuana are state residency, having a qualified medical condition and having a licensed physician in Nevada.
Giunchigliani originally proposed a state-managed farm to grow and distribute marijuana for medical purposes. But that idea was rejected by Assembly Judiciary members reluctant to support the state’s involvement.
As amended, the bill calls for an Oregon-style system that would let anyone qualifying for medical marijuana grow up to seven plants.
Sixty-five percent of voters in November approved Question 9, a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana.
”I think the public knows what it voted for, and it’s time to act,” Giunchigliani said.
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