EDITORIAL: Legalizing recreational pot is good policy

Nevada voters have an opportunity to reset America’s costly drug war. This week, petitioners began collecting signatures for an initiative to legalize recreational use of marijuana within the state.

If the petitioners collect 101,667 valid signatures from registered Nevada voters by Nov. 11, the measure would go before the 2015 Legislature for consideration. And if lawmakers ignore or reject it, the petition would appear on the November 2016 ballot.

We’re guessing the petition, put forward by the Nevada Canabis Industry Association with help from the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, won’t have a problem collecting signatures from less than 10 percent of Nevada’s electorate. Polling consistently shows a majority of voters now support decriminalizing the drug. All the way back in 2006, when voters were far less open to the idea of legalizing the purchase, possession and use of small amounts of marijuana, 44 percent of Nevada voters backed a ballot question to do just that.

It’s an important step forward in fixing a failed policy. Taxpayers finally seem to understand that spending vast sums of money at the local, state and federal levels on police, prosecutors, public defenders, judges and jails to lock up nonviolent offenders and enable the enrichment of gangs and thugs has done nothing to diminish demand for marijuana. The banned substance remains everywhere — at schools and streetcorners, in public housing and affluent suburbs.

Bringing all this commerce into the sunshine, and turning all the people who grow, process and sell marijuana into taxpayers, is a far more practical course. Colorado and Washington state voters were the first to legalize the sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes, and Colorado governments already are collecting more than $1 million per week in tax revenues from all marijuana sales.

Unfortunately, too many people support legalizing marijuana for financial reasons. They see taxed, regulated pot as a rescue for government budgets. Marijuana is like any other product on the market. If the price is too high, people won’t buy. Nevada’s petition mirrors Colorado’s law, which imposes a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale recreational marijuana sales. Retail customers would pay sales tax as well. Taxes that high will allow the black market to survive and keep street dealers in business — and police and the courts busy with drug crimes.

But Nevada voters shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Eventually, enough dispensaries will open to meet consumer demand, and competition will keep prices down. Nevada’s first medical marijuana dispensaries should open within several months and help lead the way.

If you are presented with the petition, and you’re a registered voter, sign it.

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