National group calls for legalization of recreational pot in Nevada

CARSON CITY — A national pro-marijuana organization said Friday that it intends this year to circulate petitions calling for legalizing recreational marijuana in Nevada with the intent of putting the matter before voters in the November 2016 elections.

The Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project previously has tried legalizing small amounts of marijuana in Nevada, drawing the support of 39 percent of voters in 2002 and 44 percent in 2006.

Since then, voters in Colorado and Washington state have legalized marijuana, though it remains a controlled substance under federal law. Numerous news outlets have had stories in recent months about the flurry of sales of exotic varieties of marijuana in Colorado and shop owners walking around with huge wads of money because banks will not set up accounts for their businesses.

Nevada also has received attention for passing a law in 2013 last year to set up legal dispensaries where people with state cards to use marijuana for medical reasons could buy marijuana and marijuana edibles like brownies. Regulations have been developed, but no dispensaries have yet been approved. The state has had a medical marijuana law since 2001, but until now offered no way for patients to obtain the drug other than by growing their own.

A Marijuana Policy Project spokesman confirmed the group will circulate petitions this year. An official was not available to answer questions Friday.

To put a petition to change a state law on the ballot in 2016, supporters must collect 101,667 signatures by Nov. 11. Then legislators in 2015 could approve or reject the petition. If they reject it as expected, then it would become a ballot question for voters to decide.

In releasing his organization’s strategic plan Friday for 2014, Marijuana Policy Project Director Rob Kampia also said the group wants to pass a Colorado-type law through the Rhode Island Legislature this year and persuade Alaska voters to pass a marijuana initiative in August.

The Nevada Legislature in 2013 held hearings on Assemblyman Joe Hogan’s bill to legalize marijuana, but the bill died without a vote because of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s pledge to veto it. Hogan, D-Las Vegas, had estimated a tax on legal marijuana would raise $470 million a year that could be earmarked for public education.

During hearings on Hogan’s bill, police balked at the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana, contending it would lead to more people driving while high, causing accidents. They also expressed concerns about young people getting pot.

“I have seen the destructive impact of drug abuse and drug addiction,” Las Vegas police lobbyist Chuck Callaway said. “We believe if this bill passes, it will contribute to that.”

Hogan conceded there could be more accidents because of stoned drivers, but he noted that there are many medications that could cause driving problems.

“You can’t micromanage everything,” said Hogan at the time.

In its policy statement, the Marijuana Policy Project states it envisions “a nation where marijuana is legally regulated similarly to alcohol, marijuana education is honest and realistic, and treatment for problem marijuana users is noncoercive and geared toward reducing harm.”

To read the Marijuana Policy Project’s plan, visit http://www.mpp.org/about/mpps-2014-strategic-plan.html

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Follow him on Twitter at @edisonvogel.