Nevada sits out biggest day for marijuana

Could 2012 be the year of weed?

In addition to super-PACs, this election cycle could also become known as the year marijuana cemented its place on the national stage.

There are ballot measures to legalize marijuana outright in three states: Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Medical marijuana is on the ballot in Massachusetts. And two other states – Arkansas and North Dakota – might join the fray, as well.

“It’s the biggest election day in the history of the marijuana movement,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. Kampia – in town last week for the Freedom Fest convention – sat down for an exclusive interview on the state of pot.

Nevada, Kampia said, has fallen from its previous position as one of the states most likely to legalize marijuana. Although it’s become much harder to qualify a ballot initiative in the Silver State since voters legalized medical marijuana in 1998 and 2000, Kampia said other states have surged past Nevada with medical marijuana laws.  

In Colorado and California, for example, medical marijuana dispensaries are now common sights in business districts, which tends to lessen marijuana’s forbidden status. Kampia says that increasing level of acceptance may lead voters to be more open to legalizing the drug outright, not just for patients under a doctor’s prescription.

In Nevada, medical marijuana dispensaries are more rare. And, like in other states, they are occasionally raided by local police, agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, or both. (That’s even after President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder said repeatedly that medical marijuana wouldn’t be an enforcement target. Later, the government backtracked to say large-scale providers of the drug could still be targeted, although patients would not be. Neither Obama nor Holder have sought to change federal law, which contains no exception for medical use of marijuana. That means even in states where medical marijuana is legal, patients are still breaking federal law.)

And it doesn’t look like that’s going to change, no matter the outcome of the 2012 elections. Both Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, oppose the legalization of marijuana. That puts Colorado, Oregon and Washington state on a path to collide with the federal government, and surely sets up litigation inevitably bound for the U.S. Supreme Court that will determine whether states may legalize something the Congress has determined to be illegal.

In Nevada, voters said no to that idea the last time they were asked. In 2006, voters rejected by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent the legalization of up to one ounce of marijuana. To this day, the only legal use of marijuana in this state is by those who possess a doctor’s prescription and a state-issued authorization. And even they are not legally allowed to buy marijuana or its seeds, although they may grow their own plants.

But that doesn’t mean Nevada will be left behind when it comes to its laws. Recently, a District Court judge ruled Nevada’s marijuana laws were unconstitutional because the state constitution calls for the Legislature to provide a legal way for patients to get the drug, something the Legislature has tried but failed to do. At least one bill to create a legal system for patients to obtain medical marijuana will be introduced in the 2013 Legislature; it’s a good bet our state Supreme Court will delay ruling on the matter until lawmakers have time to act.

In the meantime, several other states may take an even bolder step, one that the Silver State could have taken years ago, but didn’t. Instead of leading, we’ll be observers on the biggest Election Day in the history of weed.


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

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