Marijuana: Nevada Initiative Faces Uphill Battle, Poll Says 4/14/06

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The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Tuesday that an initiative that would allow adult Nevadans to possess up to an ounce of marijuana without fear of criminal penalty is not finding strong voter support. But the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana, the group backing the initiative, said the poll findings didn't match its own internal polls.

In the poll of 625 registered voters conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, 56% said they opposed the initiative, 34% favored it, and 10% were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of 4%.

The ballot measure would also allow the state to tax marijuana and set up a system to sell it. If the measure passes, the state legislature would face the task of creating such a system. The measure includes restrictions on sales, and would also stiffen the sentences of people who provide marijuana to minors and people who cause fatal traffic accidents while high.

This year's effort is a refinement of a 2002 initiative that would have legalized the possession of up to three ounces by adults. That effort was defeated by a margin of 61% to 39%. Questionable rulings by state officials and errors by initiative organizers in 2004 kept the issue off the ballot that year, but the Committee and its backer, the Marijuana Policy Project, collected enough signatures that year to bring the issue before the legislature. But the solons punted, leaving it to the voters to decide in November.

Law enforcement opponents of the measure were gloating. "I think it shows the public is smart enough to realize they are being hoodwinked by a group that wants to legalize drugs," said Lt. Stan Olsen of the Metropolitan Police Department. "The state, the country, the community is tired of it," he told the newspaper.

But the Committee isn't rolling over and dying just yet. "While [the poll results] may look like a bad sign on the surface, we here at CRCM don't find it discouraging. Our internal polling has shown much higher than 34% support for the initiative, and November is many months from now," the group said on its web site. "After all, we've only just begun to get out our message to Nevadans. In contrast, the federal government spends millions of dollars every year on anti-marijuana advertising in Nevada -- think maybe that's had an impact on voters' initial opinions? We are going to reach out to every voter in this state with an effective, positive message, and we intend to win this campaign. What's clear is we are currently behind, although we are within striking distance of victory."

If CRCM pulls it off, Nevada will be the first step to legalize the adult possession of marijuana through the political process. In Alaska, adults can posses up to a quarter-pound in the privacy of their homes, but that is the result of state high court decisions interpreting the privacy provisions of the state constitution.

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Issue #431 -- 4/14/06

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