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Voters to decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana in Nevada

Nevadans will decide if they want to join four other Western states that have decriminalized recreational marijuana when they vote on Question 2.

The measure would legalize the possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana for adults over 21 years of age and allow stores to sell the drug, which would be taxed and regulated. Since 2012, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have passed similar measures. If approved, the Legislature would be tasked with crafting the laws and regulations to roll the system out.

Nevada is one of five states — the others being California, Arizona, Maine and Massachusetts — voting on eliminating marijuana prohibition in November. The drug remains illegal federally, but under President Barack Obama, the federal government has decided to allow medical and recreational pot controlled by the states.

Supporters are hoping the third time is the charm for recreational marijuana. Similar measures failed in 2002 and 2006, garnering 39 percent and 44 percent of the votes, respectively.

Nevadans are split over Question 2, according to a Review-Journal poll conducted Sept. 27-29. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they would vote yes, and 46 percent said they would vote no.

Getting caught with pot in Nevada carries a penalty of anywhere from a fine up to $600 for a first offense to one to four years in prison for a fourth.

The measure is backed by the political action committee Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. The PAC is funded mostly by local medical marijuana companies and the national pro-marijuana advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project.

The legalization effort saw little opposition up until September, when a PAC called Protecting Nevada’s Children started buying and running digital ads to fight the measure.

The biggest financial backer of Protecting Nevada’s Children was Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson. Other donors include South Point Casino, MGM Resorts and Boyd Gaming. The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Supporters said decriminalizing the drug, as well as taxing and regulating its sales, would have several benefits.

Because marijuana possession would be legal, fewer people would go to jail or prison for just having marijuana on them, which would allow police to focus on more serious drugs and violent crimes, supporters said.

They argue that it would provide a boost to the local economy by generating about $60 million in new tax revenue annually, with $20 million of that going to Nevada schools.

Marijuana supporters also argue that legalization would eliminate the black market by legitimizing and regulating the product as well as its transport and sales.

Opponents have the support of several of Nevada’s top elected officials, including Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt, as well as the Nevada Resort Association.

The anti-pot PAC focuses heavily on edible marijuana products, stating that children can’t distinguish between a regular brownie and one packing 30 percent THC, the compound in marijuana that gets people high.

Anti-marijuana activists also argue that legalizing marijuana would cause Nevada roads to be less safe, saying that as access to marijuana increases, so too would stoned driving.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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