Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pro-Marijuana Group Arrives in Las Vegas


Proponents of a petition legalizing small amounts of marijuana launched their campaign Tuesday, recruiting volunteers, serving snacks and urging Nevada voters to support a "tax-and-regulate" proposal on the November ballot.

"Our marijuana laws don't work," said Neal Levine, executive director of the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana. The group is largely funded by the Washington D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

This is the latest in a string of legalization efforts backed by the group. In 2002, Nevada voters overwhelmingly rejected a petition that would have legalized up to 3 ounces of marijuana. A similar petition failed to qualify for the 2004 ballot.

The latest incarnation of the petition, which allows adults to possess 1 ounce of marijuana, was signed by 86,000 people and put before the 2005 Legislature, where it found little support.

Lawmakers declined the chance to approve it and sent it back to voters.

Levine said he thinks this time around the initiative petition will find more support than the 2002 effort, which lost in a 61-39 percent vote.

"It's a different petition this time. We've made sure it has sensible safeguards built in," he said.

The proposal allows people 21 and older to posses 1 ounce of marijuana in their homes -- the same amount allowed under Nevada's medical marijuana law. It would allow the state to license marijuana growers, distributors and retailers. The maximum penalties for selling or giving pot to a minor and for vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of drugs and alcohol would double.

Levine said the goal is to regulate a drug that is used widely, rather than spend millions arresting and prosecuting users who rarely commit crimes.

Ben Graham, lobbyist for the Nevada District Attorney's Association, called Levine's argument a "fraud upon the public."

"The facts simply do not bear that out," he said. "The law enforcement community does not expend an inordinate amount of resources dealing with personal marijuana use."

Graham said marijuana use leads to heavier drug use, and said advocates should visit drug court if they want to see the drug's detrimental effects on society. He said the law enforcement community has had little trouble making that case to Nevada voters in the past.

"I don't think we're going to have to worry about it passing," he said.

At the end of 2005, the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana had about $83,300 in cash on hand, according to campaign reports filed with the secretary of state's office.

At the opening of its campaign office Tuesday, the committee had about 30 eager and young volunteers fired up for the effort.

Nick Smith, a 19-year-old anthropology and Spanish major at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was among them.

"(Marijuana) is a much safer alternative to alcohol," Smith said. "And it opens people's minds rather than shutting their minds down."


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