Medical marijuana going to pot?


It took medical marijuana advocates more than 12 years to persuade the Nevada Legislature to enable the lawful sale of the drug through dispensaries. It might take as long for Southern Nevada governments to allow those dispensaries to actually open their doors.

It’s clear the valley’s three mayors are not excited about the prospect of prescription marijuana being sold in their municipalities. During the Review-Journal’s third Hashtags &Headlines policy luncheon, held Monday at Texas Station, Henderson’s Andy Hafen, North Las Vegas’ John Lee and Las Vegas’ Carolyn Goodman indicated they’re not excited about the industry.

Hafen wants patients to have access to the THC in marijuana, as opposed to the entire plant. Lee is very much worried about continued federal crackdowns on medical marijuana, and Goodman remains committed to giving the sick access to the drug — provided dispensaries agree to price controls. (Educated guess: They won’t.)

I moderated a discussion with the mayors about a variety of issues, and their thoughts on the marijuana issue run counter to voter sentiments. Last month, for the first time, a Gallup poll showed a clear majority of Americans favor total legalization of the drug, with 58 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed. Last year, you’ll recall, Colorado and Washington state voters approved recreational use of marijuana.

Nevada is still trying to get medical marijuana infrastructure in place. In 1998 and 2000, voters overwhelmingly supported the lawful, medicinal use of marijuana, amending the Nevada Constitution to allow it. But it wasn’t until this spring that state lawmakers finally provided “appropriate methods for supply of the plant to patients authorized to use it,” as required by the amendment. For the past dozen years, patients suffering from cancer, chronic pain, glaucoma and other ailments have been allowed to grow a few plants for themselves, but buying the plants or the seeds to grow them were against the law.

This year’s legislation was supposed to remedy that. However, although the law allows up to 40 dispensaries to open in Southern Nevada, no Southern Nevada government is obligated to open even one. State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who sponsored the dispensary bill, said lawmakers did not intend to force local governments to allow dispensaries.

“The intent was, if a city doesn’t want them, they can keep them out through zoning,” Segerblom said last week.

Although the state is moving forward with marijuana dispensary regulations, the valley’s cities are not in a hurry. Americans finally are recognizing the failure of the country’s costly war on drugs, especially the pointless fight against marijuana, but many elected officials still see any embrace of the narcotic as a political liability.

Lee’s concerns about federal intervention in the medical marijuana industry were validated Thursday when law enforcement engaged in a sweeping crackdown of Colorado dispensaries, the biggest since that state legalized medical marijuana in 2000. Sources told the Denver Post the businesses are being investigated for possible connections to Colombian cartels.

So a criminal enterprise might be selling its otherwise illegal product in a legal, taxpaying fashion? If that’s true, then it helps make the case for full legalization of the drug. There is no putting the drug trade out of business, no matter how many assets are seized by authorities, no matter how many people are arrested. Better to bring it out of the gray economy and into the light. Our jails and prisons are too crowded as it is.

Is it possible that potheads will fake symptoms to get marijuana prescriptions? Is it possible that some doctors will be more willing to write marijuana prescriptions to said potheads? Of course. It won’t be any different from the schemes that enable prescription drug abuse. Authorities will be watching.

Voters have spoken. Medical marijuana is legal in Nevada, but it has a long way to go before it can be lawfully sold.

School construction

The 2014 election conversation soon could include a school bond issue.

Clark County School District spokeswoman Kirsten Searer told me the School Board is expected to discuss funding for school construction at its Jan. 8 work session. That conversation could lead to a bond, where the district takes on long-term debt to fund capital projects, or another pay-as-you-go property tax proposal — the kind rejected by Clark County voters last year.

The School Board has little choice but to put something before voters next fall. The district’s enrollment of almost 315,000 is growing again, elementary schools are over capacity, and the system has no money to build the schools it needs to address crowding and growth. As I wrote last week, the school district could need at least 20 new schools by the end of the decade. And if the board waits until 2016 to put forward a school construction ballot question, no new schools could be completed before 2018 — when it might have 15,000 more students to teach.

The construction question continues to come up as the district carries out the process of redrawing attendance zone boundaries and, perhaps, convert campuses to year-round schedules. Trustee Patrice Tew says more parents are realizing that, while shifting students between schools might work this year, it isn’t a long-term fix. “Certainly, we need to go forward with the discussion,” she said. “Everything is on the table. All of us are gearing up.”

I hope everything is on the table, because if the school district puts forward a bond proposal that asks for too much money, it’s almost certain to lose at the ballot box. To win over beleaguered voters, the system needs to show it has given proper consideration to bold, cost-saving ideas, such as converting rented office buildings into schools and better utilizing under-capacity middle schools. And it needs to get its maintenance issues figured out, because neglecting structures and equipment, then replacing broken systems with new ones is no way to take care of the public’s buildings.

It would be interesting to see how a school bond question would compete against the margins tax question already put forward by the state teachers union. The backers of the awful margins tax aim to reduce class sizes and expand kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs — even though the Clark County School District doesn’t have the building space to accommodate any of those initiatives.

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.