Nevada Voters to Get Second Chance to Legalize Marijuana 2/27/04

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The Marijuana Policy Project ( hopes the second time is the charm. In 2002, MPP attempted to make Nevada the first state to legalize marijuana possession and regulate its sales, but its initiative was beaten back after facing a strong counterattack, and picked up only 39% of the vote. Now, MPP and its Nevada affiliate, the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana ( are set to try it again.

On February 18, CRCM filed papers with the Nevada Secretary of State's office to get the signature-gathering process underway for the Regulation of Marijuana Amendment. Proponents must now gather some 51,000 valid signatures by June 15 to get on the November ballot. If the measure passes in November, under Nevada law it must be resubmitted to the voters for a second approval in 2006.

Last time around, opponents of marijuana legalization hammered hard and effectively at the quantity adults would be able to possess (three ounces in 2002), the dangers of driving under the influence, and the alleged deleterious impact legalization would have on the youth. MPP and CRCM were listening, and this year they have crafted an initiative that they hope addresses those concerns.

According to CRCM, the initiative would:

  • eliminate the threat of arrest and jail for adults aged 21 and older who use and possess up to one ounce of marijuana (which is the equivalent of one-and-a-half packs of cigarettes);
  • direct the state legislature to regulate the manufacture, taxation, and sale of marijuana, whereby establishments that are licensed to sell tobacco will also be permitted to sell marijuana, provided that they neither sell alcohol nor are within 500 yards of a school or place of worship;
  • earmark marijuana-related tax revenues to alcohol and drug treatment and education;
  • maintain penalties for underage marijuana use, smoking marijuana in public, using or possessing marijuana on school grounds or in prisons, and transporting marijuana across state lines;
  • increase penalties for providing marijuana to minors, as well as for motorists who kill someone while under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or any other substance; and
  • take effect on December 5, 2006, if a majority of Nevada voters pass the initiative in November 2004 and again in November 2006. December 5 is the anniversary of the end of Prohibition in 1933.
"People said we lost and we should give up," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia, "but our mission is to regulate marijuana like alcohol, and to do that we are going to have to win in some states. We want a state where people are sympathetic, and even though we lost in Nevada in 2002, that doesn't mean we can't win there this time."

MPP and CRCM had listened not only to opponents but to voters in crafting this year's initiative, Kampia added. "We've changed the language on the permissibility amount, lowering it from three ounces to one ounce," he told DRCNet. "We've hard-wired in penalties for vehicular manslaughter while under the influence, we've hard-wired in penalties for selling marijuana to minors, we've noted that tax revenues will be earmarked for drug and alcohol treatment. Now people in Nevada who want treatment have a 35-day waiting list, and you know how tragic that can be for someone who desperately wants treatment. With this measure, we can bring that wait down to zero."

And in a move that is politically savvy though certain to rub some youth rights advocates the wrong way, the campaign will hammer hard at theme of teen pot use, Kampia said. "We have started running a series of TV ads whose focus is to explain that marijuana prohibition has not prevented teens from using. According to the White House, 67% of Nevada teens have tried marijuana. The ads compare that figure to the 28% of teens that have used in Holland, where it is regulated, and suggest that maybe it is time for a change," said the MPP head. "Running these ads will change the tone of the debate, and we'll be running them for months."

The campaign has even created a special web site ( to further the argument that regulation is the best way to keep pot out of the hands of kids.

"In this campaign, we're targeting teens, we're saying current laws aren't working," agreed CRCM spokeswoman Jennifer Knight. "Anyone who is supporting the status quo is essentially saying they want to keep teen pot use sky high. What kind of message is that sending? This initiative actually allows for stricter control of marijuana than we currently have for tobacco or alcohol," she told DRCNet. "Under the initiative, no one under 21 can enter a shop where marijuana is sold, and anyone who sells marijuana to a minor faces up to ten years in prison for a first offense, life for a second. No one who sells alcohol or tobacco to minors faces a penalty like that," said Knight.

The presence of Knight is another difference from 2002, said Kampia. Along with Andy Anderson, the former head of the Nevada Council of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs, Knight will help bring a strong in-state component to a campaign criticized last time for being led and financed by outsiders. "Last time around, our man on the ground in Nevada, Billy Rogers, was an out-of-stater, but being an in-stater brings with it lots of political connections," he said. "So we have brought back Andy Anderson, who will be paid by us to work full-time organizing police and tough guys around the state and building a coalition of police leaders to support the initiative. And we hired Jennifer Knight as our spokesperson. She was a reporter for the Las Vegas Sun, which makes her hiring particularly important because she knows reporters all around Las Vegas and she knows opinion leaders at the state house. She is really part of the community," Kampia said.

Knight may also be able to help bring her former employer to a less hostile position. The Sun became especially vocal in its opposition to the 2002 effort after one its editors was run down and killed by a driver under the influence of marijuana.

Knight will also hammer at the issue of traffic safety, she said. "The argument was that this is going to create more carnage on our highways, but if you look at National Highway Traffic Safety Administration numbers, you see that in 2001, we had 78 traffic fatalities to due alcohol, but 121 due to speeding. Those people are just as dead and their families just as bereaved, and there are more of them, but no one is talking about that. If we want to reduce highway fatalities, maybe we should just enforce existing laws," she suggested.

Also, Knight pointed out, most of the alcohol traffic fatalities are people coming home from drinking from bars and hotels. "The initiative does not allow for smoking marijuana in a public place or in your car, so there will be no driving home stoned," she argued. "And coupled with the stronger language about DUI fatality penalties, I think we will actually see a big deterrent to people driving under the influence of alcohol."

While MPP and CRCM appear to have their ducks in a row -- they've done the polling and the focus groups, their ad campaign is underway, their ground troops are mobilizing -- Kampia acknowledged that factors external to the campaign could derail it, as, he suggested, was the case in 2002. "Some things are out of your control," he said. "One reason we lost was because in 2002 Republican voter turnout was heavy, while the Democrats and independents stayed home. There were actually more votes for legalizing marijuana than for any Democratic candidate except one. This time around, everybody is going to be doing get out the vote work. Democrats and independents are 57% of the Nevada electorate, and if they come out in large numbers, unlike 2002, they will trend in our favor. A big turnout will be good for us."

Visit for CRCM's new text. Visit to view the campaign's TV ads.

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Issue #326, 2/27/04 Editorial: Needless Danger | Nevada Voters to Get Second Chance to Legalize Marijuana | New York: Medical Marijuana on the Move in Albany and NYC | South Dakota "Internal Possession" Drug Law Upheld | Newsbrief: US 9th Circuit Denies Federal Appeal in Medical Marijuana Case | Newsbrief: Campaign Watch -- Nader on Drugs | Newsbrief: Utah Federal Judge Questions Mandatory Minimums | Newsbrief: South Carolina Urine Felon Jailed for Six Months | Newsbrief: Psychedelic Pioneer Humphry Osmond Dead at 86 | Newsbrief: California Narcs Kill Wrong Man | Newsbrief: Hempster Becomes Local Hero in Icy Pond Rescue | This Week in History | The Reformer's Calendar
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