A broken system

The people have spoken.

And the government said, "Ah, who cares?"

Back in 1998, after realizing that the state Legislature lacked the will or the courage to legalize medical marijuana, the voters petitioned to amend the state constitution to allow for it. In 1998 and 2000, Nevadans handily approved Question 9. Among its provisions: a requirement that the Legislature authorize appropriate methods to supply medical marijuana to those patients who need it.

This the Legislature hasn’t done, unless you count the freedom to grow your own medicine under tight restrictions. Because, really, what cancer patient doesn’t want to tend a garden while recovering from chemo?

That’s undoubtedly why Clark County District Judge Donald Mosley was so confused last week. According to a story by the Review-Journal’s Francis McCabe, Mosley dismissed an indictment against a man accused of selling medical marijuana to an undercover cop. The cop had presented a state-issued card testifying to the fact that he was authorized to use medical marijuana, and he signed a paper saying that a donation to the man’s co-op wasn’t necessary to obtain the marijuana, which itself came packaged in vials labeled "not for sale."

But the cop provided a donation anyway, thus violating a state law that says marijuana cannot be sold. Because the grand jury didn’t get the whole back story, Mosley did the only sane thing and dismissed the indictment. But he had a few choice words for the Legislature in the process.

"Well, why don’t they (lawmakers) make up their mind if they want to make it legal or not?" Mosley asked. "I’m looking at it thinking I can’t make any sense out of this law."

He’s not the only one.

Drug laws in Nevada have always reflected a certain Draconian medievalism. Not long ago, possession of any amount of marijuana was a felony. Now, possessing small amounts is not as serious. (And federal law lists marijuana on the same drug schedule as LSD, PCP and fentanyl!)

Now, what the Nevada Legislature ought to do is legalize marijuana outright and charge state regulators with writing appropriate regulations and taxes. Treating marijuana like alcohol — a much more dangerous drug, by the way — with rules barring use by minors, DUI and public intoxication makes much more sense than the current regime. The state would also benefit from the tax revenue without raising taxes on any existing business, which should appeal to lawmakers.

And legalization would also have the benefit of creating jobs. Last week, my 8NewsNow I-Team colleague Jonathan Humbert and photographer Alex Brauer hiked up to the Spring Mountains to observe camouflage BDU-clad cops cutting down a mini-forest of marijuana plants, one of four grow areas spotted in the hard-to-reach area. As Humbert’s report showed, growers went to a great deal of time and effort to set up the outdoor farm because there’s clearly a profit to be made.

Does anybody doubt that if marijuana were legal, those entrepreneurs wouldn’t go legit and participate in a state-sanctioned program?

But let’s suppose Nevada’s Legislature exhibits its characteristic trepidation and balks at outright legalization. How can lawmakers in good conscience continually fail to follow the constitutional mandate in Article IV, Section 38(1)(e) to provide a system for people to get perfectly legal medicine? Patients shouldn’t have to commit a crime — i.e. buying marijuana, or at least the seeds to grow their own marijuana — to take advantage of a law the majority of Nevada voters have approved. And co-op owners shouldn’t have to worry that they’re committing a crime and risking arrest by accepting a voluntary donation to supply people with medicine prescribed by a doctor.

"I mean, it just makes no sense," Mosley said of Nevada’s medical marijuana laws. He’s absolutely right.


Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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