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Nevada plan to legalize marijuana would be first in nation
By BRENDAN RILEY, Associated Press Writer
Sat Sep 14, 2:10 AM ET
CARSON CITY, Nev. - In Nevada, they love gambling and tolerate
prostitution. Now they are talking about legalizing pot.
A measure on the ballot Nov. 5 would make Nevada the first
state to allow adults to possess marijuana — up to 3 ounces,
enough for maybe 100 joints.
People over 21 would be allowed to smoke it in their homes but
not in cars or public places. Pot would be sold in
state-licensed smoke shops and taxed like cigarettes.
"This initiative will allow the police to spend more time
going after murderers, rapists and other violent criminals,"
said Billy Rogers, leader of the group that is pushing the
Whether it could actually take effect is unclear. Federal law
bans marijuana possession, and the White House has come out
strongly against the idea. Also, Nevada voters would have to
approve the proposal again in 2004 before it became law.
Nevada, home of the nation's gambling capital, has long had a
fondness for what others forbid. Although prostitution is
banned in Las Vegas, Reno, Carson City — and in 49 states — it
is legal in 10 of Nevada's 17 counties. The 30 licensed
brothels in the state are monitored by the state Health
Division. In addition, Las Vegas has a multitude of outcall
entertainment services that are thought to be fronts for
But the vote on marijuana represents a remarkable about-face
in Nevada's attitudes toward pot.
A year ago, Nevada had one of the nation's strictest marijuana
laws. Possession of a single joint was a felony punishable by
a year or more in prison.
In 2000, Nevada voters approved the use of medical marijuana,
and the Legislature voted in 2001 to make possession of less
than an ounce of pot a misdemeanor punishable by up to six
months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Opinion polls on the marijuana measure show Nevadans almost
evenly split, with opponents gaining ground.
"What message are we sending our youth if this initiative
passes? That it's OK to take drugs?" said school counselor
Teresa Jempsa. "If marijuana becomes legal, then what drug is
The plan was put on the November ballot after the group led by
Rogers, Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement, gathered the
necessary 75,000 signatures.
Other states are debating looser marijuana laws, but none are
considering legalization for recreational purposes.
Arizona voters will soon decide on making possession of up to
2 ounces a non-criminal violation punishable by a maximum fine
of $250. San Francisco is exploring the idea of growing pot on
public lots and distributing it to ill people.
Ohio has the most lenient law in the nation, with possession
of less than 100 grams — nearly 4 ounces — bringing a citation
and $100 fine.
In Nevada, law enforcement officials oppose the legalization
measure. Undersheriff Richard Winget in Las Vegas said 3
ounces would produce enough marijuana joints to supply a
small-time drug dealer.
And Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick said the
argument that Nevada would earn millions in tax dollars is "a
ruse on the voting public."
Federal Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson
and federal drug czar John P. Walters visited the state to
underscore the Bush administration's opposition.
"I don't think Las Vegas and Nevada want to become the center
for drug tourism," Walters said.
Jeff Oakes, a North Las Vegas resident, said he supports
"As of right now," he said, "the most dangerous effect of
marijuana possession and use is jail."