Nevada voters face controversial marijuana initiative |

Nevada voters face controversial marijuana initiative

With a handful of marijuana-related initiatives on ballots across the nation, Nevada’s Question 9 is seen as the most far-reaching, controversial and aggressive during a time of escalating pro-marijuana discussion.

Question 9 was placed on the November ballot when Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement representatives collected about 109,000 signatures. It states an adult can possess up to 3 ounces of the leafy drug which could be bought at state-licensed shops.

Critics have said the initiative, which would need to pass this November and again in November 2004 to legally change the state’s Constitution, would transform the state into a quasi-Amsterdam while attracting the wrong kind of tourists.

Proponents believe the initiative is the right step to decriminalize marijuana and construct a system where medical marijuana patients can safely buy their medicine at a low cost. The passage of the initiative would allow authorities to focus on violent crimes rather than “tens of thousands of non-violent marijuana users,” the NRLE’s Web site states.

Both sides have their own facts, figureheads and finances. But mixed in the middle is federal law stating possession of marijuana is illegal.

Bruce Mirken is the communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., which funds and supports the Question 9 campaign. Mirken had two reasons why federal law wouldn’t supersede Question 9 if the initiative becomes law in January 2005.

“We would hope that the federal government would recognize that shift in opinion and rethink some of its similar laws,” Mirken said.

If the government doesn’t consider the end of marijuana prohibition, Mirken cited a commerce clause in the Constitution which would make it difficult for federal authorities to impose restrictions if Nevada doesn’t import or export marijuana.

Mirken mentioned a UNLV study that found taxation of marijuana sales would bring nearly $29 million in state revenue if 750,000 regular users bought marijuana at $250 an ounce. This money would go into the general fund.

Bob Wenner, chief deputy with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, expressed his opinion that legal marijuana would increase traffic accidents and provide a readily available gateway drug for adults and children.

“We have enough drunk drivers on the road as it is,” Wenner said. “We don’t need to double that.”

Deputy Chris Griffith, the D.A.R.E. officer for fifth-graders, was concerned with possible long-term health issues.

“We’re definitely not in favor of it,” Griffith said. “It’s not good role-modeling and marijuana is a gateway drug.”

Besides Wenner and Griffith, Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa announced on Oct. 17 that she opposes the initiative and discredited a commercial supporting Question 9 that suggested she favored the initiative.

“Although I understand and share concerns about medical uses regarding pain management and so on, Question 9 is not the answer,” she said in a statement.

To nobody’s surprise, drug czar John Walters and Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson have been outspoken critics of the initiative. Walters has visited Las Vegas numerous times to speak to residents.

Arizona has a marijuana initiative that, if passed, would create a medical marijuana card and distribution system, reduce possession to a civil fine and would require a conviction before asset forfeiture in drug cases.

An initiative in South Dakota would make it legal for people to plant and possess hemp plants that have 1 percent or less of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana that stimulates the high.

Mirken, from the Marijuana Policy Project, said the organization has supplied about $1.9 million to the Question 9 crusade. Numerous polls regarding Question 9 have found support slipping. A poll sponsored by the Las Vegas Review-Journal found 60 percent of 625 registered voters against Question 9 while 36 were in favor and 4 percent were undecided.

Mirken seemed unfazed by the poll.

“That poll, I think, has little relationship to what’s going to happen in the election,” Mirken said. “A lot of our supporters aren’t regular voters who feel disenchanted from politics.”

Steven Brown, a 67-year-old science teacher at Lake Tahoe Community College, thinks the initiative would allow people to abuse marijuana.

“I think it’s just opening up Pandora’s box,” Brown said from his Zephyr Cove home, adding, “If drugs are needed for people with various diseases, then they can get legal pharmaceutical prescriptions.”

Rachel West, a 24-year-old LTCC student, had a different view.

“I think it’s a good idea,” she said. “It’s good for the economy and good for people because they don’t have to hide what they do.”

— William Ferchland may be reached at

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