Building on a 2005 law that made it a felony offense for people to operate methamphetamine labs in homes where children are present, a Nevada legislator has introduced a bill that would subject people growing even a single marijuana plant to the same penalties. Under the bill, they could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
The bill, Senate Bill 6, was introduced by state Sen. Joe Heck (R-Las Vegas), who doesn't see any difference between undertaking a complicated and risky chemical process and growing a plant. "You are exposing children to dangers when you are selling any illegal substance out of your house or growing any illegal substance out of your house, so you should be held to the higher penalties," Heck told the Senate Human Services and Education Committee.
"If a guy has a couple of (marijuana) plants in there (now), he could be out in a week," Heck said. "But if there is a child present, with this, now he could serve five to 15 years for exposing that child to the dangers of this activity. The very behavior of small children puts them at risk around these materials, including marijuana," Heck said. "As any parent knows, the first place a toddler places anything they find is in their mouth. What if this object is a marijuana plant?"
But during the Monday hearing on the bill, representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and the Clark County (Las Vegas) Public Defenders Office urged legislators to think twice. "The way the bill is currently drafted states that someone could be growing marijuana for their personal use and not for the purposes of distributing it, selling it or engaging in drug trafficking and they would be treated as if they were engaged in those activities," said Gary Peck, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada.
The proposed new law amounted to "shooting fleas with cannons," Peck said, adding that it could impose an even greater burden on the state's overflowing prison population. "No one who is testifying in support of the bill can actually talk about the implications in respect to the incarceration rate," Peck said.
Applying the same penalties to meth lab operators and pot plant growers is inappropriate, said public defender Jason Frierson. "The reason that statute was written the way it was is because meth labs have a tendency to explode and the chemical components, the fumes and the chemical burns -- the exposure to those were the reasons for the greater penalties," Frierson said. "As I read it, this is treating the growth of one marijuana plant similarly with the existence of a meth lab in the presence of children."
The usual suspects supported the bill, including the Nevada District Attorneys Association, the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association and the Peace Officers Research Association. "It is our belief that anytime you have drugs and children together, it is a dangerous combination, a dangerous mix," said Kristin Erickson, a Washoe County deputy district attorney speaking for the state association.
Nevada is a state where medical marijuana is legal and patients or caregivers can grow up to three or four plants, but the bill makes no mention of that.