Southern Nevada’s local government leaders never tire of pitching grand visions for their cities, of calling for 21st-century communities, of embracing change and not looking back. Yet when it comes to marijuana policy, they’ve embraced the counterproductive scare tactics of the 1950s.
Consider that nearly half the states allow medicinal use of marijuana with a doctor’s prescription, with more coming; that a majority of Americans now favor full legalization of the drug; that citizens of two states voted to allow recreational use of marijuana; and that in the past week, both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and President Barack Obama made statements supporting the decriminalization of marijuana.
But at local city halls, they’re ready to screen anti-drug propaganda films from generations gone by. This is moving forward?
The Nevada Legislature recognized the political force of this change in public opinion. Last year, lawmakers finally authorized the licensing of dispensaries that will sell prescription marijuana directly to patients. More than a decade ago, Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana, but legislators steadfastly refused to create a system that provided patients with easy access to the drug, making it legal to grow plants but illegal to buy or sell them. A judge declared that law unconstitutional, providing politicians with even more cover to create dispensaries.
Medical marijuana dispensaries are in operation across the country. Southern Nevada cities aren’t breaking new ground in licensing and regulating such operations. But Las Vegas, Henderson and Mesquite have approved moratoriums on dispensary applications. They have all kinds of excuses for doing so, citing concerns with state standards, dispensary pricing practices and federal laws that criminalize marijuana in all forms.
Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic wants no part of drafting a medical marijuana ordinance, claiming he can’t possibly advise his government to enact policies that break federal law.
That’s a red herring. Over the years, local government attorneys have told their charges to violate all kinds of laws, from denying requests for obviously public records to writing ordinances that clearly violate First Amendment protections for free expression and assembly. City officials have state law and the state constitution on their side, but they’re running scared from medical marijuana because they don’t want to be seen as favoring marijuana use.
We hate to break the news to the authorities, but people are smoking pot right now — for medicinal and recreational purposes — despite every city, state and federal law against it. Pot prohibition doesn’t work. It turns users into criminals, fills jails and drives up justice system costs. And the longer officials wait to bring medical marijuana into legitimate commerce, the longer they keep it underground. Americans recognize this policy failure and want it reversed.
Under the new state law, Clark County can have 40 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries across all jurisdictions. And we’re nowhere close to having even one.
There’s no going back to the days of “Reefer Madness,” no matter how much our cities want to. Voters are trying to move forward, but local government won’t let them.