IF Nevadans pass the ballot initiative legalizing marijuana in November and
again in 2004, it would give new meaning to a joint session of the
Legislature.

The 2005 Legislature, you see, would be responsible for setting up a system
to grow, distribute and regulate marijuana in Nevada. Lawmakers would be
obligated to carry out the will of the people, even though those activities
still would be illegal under federal law.

"This would make Nevada a laughingstock," says Chief Deputy District
Attorney Gary Booker, who's among those in law enforcement leading the
charge against Question 9, the first ever pro-pot initiative in the country.

But look at the upside. It almost certainly would revive the stand-up comedy
careers of Cheech & Chong on the tourist-hungry Strip.

To some degree Nevada already is a laughingstock. The national media in
recent weeks has focused much attention on the Las Vegas-anchored campaign
to legalize marijuana. A total of 110,000 Nevadans, 67,000 from the Las
Vegas area, signed petitions to get Question 9 on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Most Americans probably aren't surprised to hear that Sin City is at the
heart of the initiative that would allow anyone over 21 to possess three
ounces of marijuana.

In Las Vegas, after all, gambling is legal, showgirls are topless and
casinos encourage their guests to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes to make
them as comfortable as they can while they lose their money.

Strippers can dance totally nude at adult nightclubs, and legal prostitution
is 45 minutes away in Pahrump. If tourists don't want to make that drive,
they can pick up the Yellow pages, browse through 102 pages of escort
service advertisements and order an "entertainer" sent to their room.

Even teen pregnancy and high school dropout rates here are among the highest
in the nation.

No wonder President Bush and Congress have decided to store the nation's
deadly nuclear waste outside Las Vegas.

How much worse could the city's image be if state-approved "Pot Marts"
spring up on street corners?

Sin City simply would have one more vice to attract tourists.

The pothead visitor market, it turns out, has potential to become a big one.

Billy Rogers -- the high-priced Texas strategist who's coordinating the
ballot initiative for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project --
says 80 million Americans have tried the drug and another 11 million use it
regularly.

That should bring a smile to the faces of Las Vegas Convention and Visitors
Authority executives who probably already are eyeing marketing strategies to
lure pot smokers to the Strip. You say Betty Crocker wants to host a brownie
baking convention in 2005?

The thought of getting a piece of the state's marijuana business also must
be appealing to Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who's always looking for
innovative ways to raise money for his favorite charity, the city.

Last year Goodman tried to sell the city's seal to an Internet gambling
operation, and soon he'll be pitching Bombay Sapphire Gin to the nation on
the city's behalf.

Why not peddle some pot, too?

There happen to be 61 acres of prime undeveloped land downtown that could be
turned into a money-making marijuana farm. It could be the answer to the
mayor's redevelopment prayers.

Rogers says his organization, Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement
(which doesn't have any visible law enforcement members), is primed for
victory on Nov. 5.

The Marijuana Policy Project has contributed $900,000 to the initiative
since May, giving Rogers a huge campaign war chest to wage -- you guessed it
- -- a grass-roots campaign to win over the hearts and minds of the voters.

"I can tell you right now we are going to win this election for the simple
reason that most Nevadans don't have a problem with responsible adults
possessing small amounts of marijuana in their homes," Rogers says.

The opposition, Nevadans Against Legalizing Marijuana (which actually has
the support of law enforcement), doesn't share that opinion. But so far the
group has collected a meager $100 to get its message out, though it plans to
pick up the fund-raising pace.

"It's David vs. Goliath," says group member Sandy Heverly, executive
director of STOP DUI. "Fortunately we have a lot of Davids, and they're
going to speak loud and clear when push comes to shove."

Among those expected to support Heverly and law enforcement officers are two
former governors, Richard Bryan and Bob Miller.

On Friday the anti-marijuana forces held a news conference with retiring
Sheriff Jerry Keller to rally the troops. Both candidates for sheriff, Bill
Young and Randy Oaks, were among those on hand.

"We don't need anymore negativity strewn about our community," Heverly says.
"Bill Rogers and the people in his group view us as the armpit of the world
and think they can come in here and destroy what values we have in this
community."

But will they be able to turn Nevada into the nation's laughingstock?

Only if Nevadans fail to go to the polls on Nov. 5 to vote against Question 9.

Pubdate: Fri, 27 Sep 2002
Source: Las Vegas Sun (NV)
Copyright: 2002 Las Vegas Sun, Inc
Contact: letters@lasvegassun.com
Website: http://www.lasvegassun.com/