LAS VEGAS - The debate about Nevada's marijuana decriminalization
initiative escalated Friday as the two sides skirmished over who was
backing the measure on November's ballot and what Question 9 would accomplish.

Backed by the Clark County sheriff, a county prosecutor and an underdog
candidate for governor, the head of a Las Vegas anti-drunken driving
advocacy group waved a slingshot Friday and pledged a David-versus-Goliath
fight against letting Nevada adults possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana.

"We are not going to tolerate an invasion by people impersonating Nevadans
who think they can pollute our community and state by legalizing
marijuana," Sandy Heverly, Stop DUI leader, said after introducing the new
group, Nevadans Against Legalizing Marijuana.

The rally came a day after the organizer of Nevadans for Responsible Law
Enforcement, which put the measure on the ballot, unveiled a campaign
chaired by a state assemblywoman who insists that backers of the measure
aren't a bunch of pot-loving hippies.

"We're just everyday Nevadans who pay our bills, pay our taxes, take care
of our families and take care of our animals," Chris Guichigliani, D-Las
Vegas, said Friday.

Others on the committee include state Assemblyman Wendell Williams, D-Las
Vegas, Nye County Commissioner Dick Carver, and Bob Fulkerson of the
Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

Guichigliani said she agreed to head the group after proponents collected
nearly 110,000 signatures to get the constitutional measure on the ballot.
To take effect it would have to passed by voters Nov. 5 and again in 2004.

Campaign manager Billy Rogers, a Texas native backed by the Washington,
D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, argued during the petition drive that
it is a waste of time and resources for law enforcement to prosecute minor
pot offenders.

In recent weeks, the debate has steered toward whether Nevada residents
entitled to smoke pot under a 2000 state medical marijuana law can obtain
the drug without resorting to back-alley deals.

On Friday, Rogers cited Holly Brady, 49, a Las Vegas resident with multiple
sclerosis who called marijuana essential to helping her cope with her
debilitating symptoms but said she must get her marijuana illegally.

"The initiative does two things," Rogers said Friday. "It protects
responsible adults who possess small amounts of marijuana in the privacy of
their own home, or under the care of a doctor."

Gary Booker, a deputy Clark County district attorney and drunken-driving
prosecutor, called the medical marijuana access argument a sham and drew
cheers from the 100 people at Friday's rally.

"They want to play on sympathies. They want to use sick people. We're not
having it," Booker declared.

Booker and Rogers have sparred for weeks, including a televised debate
Wednesday during which Booker wrongly asserted that medical marijuana
patients can get seeds from the state Agriculture Department to grow their
own pot.

The state agriculture office said no such program exists.

Sheriff Jerry Keller, who will retire after the Nov. 5 election, told
Friday's rally that legalizing pot would be "a public safety nightmare."
Deputy Las Vegas police Chief Bill Young and Capt. Randy Oaks, the two
leading candidates to replace Keller, both said they oppose Question 9.

Heverly hoisted a pickle jar full of what she called fake pot and pledged a
campaign featuring two former governors and a former state attorney
general, a flurry of letters-to-the-editor and presentations to city
councils and civic organizations around the state.

Gubernatorial candidate Joe Neal, a Democratic state senator from North Las
Vegas, said he doubted the backing and motives of the measure's proponents.

"They have taken Nevada to be the beachhead for their cartel," Neal said.

Until last year, Nevada had the strictest law in the nation, making it a
felony to possess a single marijuana cigarette. Last year, the Legislature
made possession of less than an ounce a misdemeanor.

Supporters say it should be legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to
3 ounces of marijuana. The initiative would tax marijuana like cigarettes
and other tobacco products, and allow it to be sold only in state-licensed
shops.

Public use would be banned and driving under the influence would be
illegal. Minors would be prohibited from possessing the drug, and private
individuals would not be allowed to sell it.

Pubdate: Fri, 27 Sep 2002
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2002 Associated Press
Author: Ken Ritter, Associated Press Writer
Cited: Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement ( www.nrle.org