Until last October, Nevada had the strictest marijuana law in the nation.
Puffing on a single joint was a felony offense punishable by prison term of
a year or more.

Such penalties were rarely imposed, and the law didn't stop Nevadans from
approving the use of medical marijuana in 2000. State legislators in 2001
also passed a law making possession of less than one ounce a misdemeanor.

Now, Nevadans might vote this fall to loosen the pot prohibition law even
more, essentially giving the state the most relaxed marijuana law in
America.

The Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, was
able to collect signatures of 109,000 Nevada voters on a petition that seeks
to legalize possession of up to three ounces of marijuana.

If enough signatures are found valid, the question would be put to voters
this November and again in 2004.

It still would be illegal for minors to possess the drug, and driving under
the influence laws would still hold. It also still would be illegal to use
marijuana in public places. A distribution system also would be set up to
provide low-cost medical marijuana.

"We know most people in Nevada don't think people should be arrested and
sent to prison for small amounts, "said the Marijuana Policy Project's Billy
Rogers. "Most people think it is a waste of tax dollars for law enforcement
to go after people with small amounts of marijuana."

Rogers' group set up a state organization called Nevadans for Responsible
Law Enforcement. The group spent more than $300,000 in collecting the
signatures.

County clerks have until next Monday to verify the signatures are accurate.
The group needs only 61,336 valid signatures to put the proposal before
voters.

Past votes by Nevadans have reflected a tolerant approach to marijuana use.
State voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana
twice: 59 percent of voters backed the plan in 1998 and 65 percent approved
it in 2000.

Following the second vote, Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas,
pushed through a bill to set up a medical marijuana program and to relax the
state's marijuana possession laws. Possession of less than one ounce of
marijuana now is a misdemeanor. Offenders can be fined as much as $600, but
don't get any jail time.

Currently, 185 people with medical problems have been given state permits to
grow up to seven marijuana plants. Cecile Crofoot, who manages the medical
marijuana program, said police haven't had any problems with participants
abusing the program.

But Crofoot said the complaint she hears from almost every legal user is
they find it difficult to grow marijuana.

Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Stan Olsen said police in Las Vegas have
not taken an official stance on the latest marijuana petition, but probably
will oppose it.

"Three ounces is quite a bit ,"said Olsen, the department's legislative
lobbyist. "If we legalize it, what is next? A lot of people don't use drugs
now because they are illegal and they stand to lose in their personal or
professional lives if they use."

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, said
that new law, which went into effect Oct. 1, makes Nevada one of 12 states
that have decriminalized the drug.

"Over one third of the adults have tried the drug, including former
presidents and Supreme Court justices,"said Paul Armentano, a NORML
spokesman."It is time to admit it is part of the culture."


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Pubdate: Mon, 1 Jul 2002
Source: Reno Gazette-Journal (NV)
Copyright: 2002 Reno Gazette-Journal
Contact: rgjmail@nevadanet.com
Website: http://www.rgj.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/363
Author: Associated Press