Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement (http://www.nrle.org), the group spearheading the effort to end the criminal prosecution of marijuana users through a constitutional amendment this November, won a significant political victory this week when Nevada's largest police organization endorsed the effort. The amendment would block the arrest or prosecutions of adults found in possession of three ounces or less of marijuana. Driving dangerously under the influence would still be unlawful, as would smoking in public places, and marijuana would be lawful only for persons 21 or older.
The amendment would also order the state government to "implement a system whereby adults could obtain marijuana through a legally regulated market, rather than from the criminal market," setting up a potential court battle between state and federal authorities. The amendment further orders the state to find a way to provide cheap marijuana to medical patients.
The police endorsement came amidst signs of a rapidly mobilizing opposition, led by DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson and drug czar John Walters, both of whom have spoken out against the measure in recent days. Clark County (Las Vegas) chief deputy district attorney in charge of vehicular crimes Gary Booker had told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he is about to form a coalition of drunk driving and victims' groups to oppose the measure. The group thinks it has another attack opening with the amendment's language barring driving dangerously while under the influence of marijuana. The amendment's language does not make driving while high a crime in itself.
But all the week's political skirmishes were overshadowed by the stunning announcement that the Nevada Conference of Police and Sheriffs (NCOPS) had endorsed the measure. The NCOPS board of directors voted 9-0 Tuesday to support the amendment, now known as Question 9 on the November ballot. Police should focus on more serious crimes, said NCOPS. "We're not endorsing marijuana, we're not saying marijuana is good. We're saying we should be spending our time protecting and serving the public," NCOPS president Andy Anderson told the Review-Journal. "It's not cops for pot," he added. "The bottom line is, we think we can use our resources better than making simple marijuana arrests," Anderson said.
NCOPS is an umbrella organization for police unions and other police groups around the state, with more than 3,000 members, more than 2,100 of whom are Las Vegas police belonging to the Police Protective Association. There has been grumbling about the move from PPA, whose leader, David Kallas, told the Review-Journal that PPA would only support the section of the amendment dealing with medical marijuana.
Still, NRLE, a project of the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org), hailed the endorsement in a Tuesday press release. "The historic endorsement of the marijuana initiative by Nevada's largest law-enforcement organization is good news for Nevadans, because it means that we're one step closer to ensuring that law-enforcement officers will have more time to go after murderers, rapists, kidnappers and other violent criminals," said NRLE spokesperson Billy Rogers, who then added a blast at federal drug warriors for good measure. "Last month federal politicians paraded through Nevada urging local law-enforcement officers to oppose the marijuana initiative," Rogers said. "The federal Drug Czar and DEA chief should have been listening to Nevada's law-enforcement officers instead of telling Nevadans how to vote."
It may also prove to be a key endorsement in what is shaping up to be a very close contest. A poll conducted two weeks ago for the Review-Journal found the amendment narrowly losing, 44% to 46%, with 10% undecided. Another poll, for the Reno Gazette-Journal and KRNV-TV in Reno, released Monday, showed a dead heat, with 48% of likely voters supporting the amendment, 48% opposing it, and a measly 4% undecided. With both polls having a 4% margin of error, the race is literally too close to call at this point.
Rogers told the Review-Journal that NRLE has raised about $150,000 so far for the campaign and that the NCOPS endorsement would play prominently in advertising for the amendment. But the campaign to make Nevada part of the vanguard in ending marijuana prohibition could use more help -- a visit to the NRLE web site will show you what to do. If the amendment passes in November, under Nevada law voters must again approve it in 2004. But you can't win then unless you win now.