Pubdate: Tue, 12 Dec 2000
Source: Reno Gazette-Journal (NV)
Copyright: 2000 The Reno Gazette-Journal, a Gannett Co. Inc.
Author: Mike Henderson


A Nevada Supreme Court commission is recommending that possession of small
amounts of marijuana be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor citation.

But Washoe District Attorney Dick Gammick said Monday that he opposes the
recommendation, calling marijuana the "gateway to other drugs" and a first
step toward other crimes.

Possession of even a marijuana seed or a single marijuana cigarette is a
felony in Nevada, making its drug laws among the toughest in the nation.

The Supreme Court's Judicial Assessment Commission, appointed and chaired by
Chief Justice Bob Rose, has urged that possession of less than an ounce of
marijuana be a misdemeanor and handled by issuing a citation. Possession of
one to four ounces would be a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one
year in jail. If more than four ounces of marijuana were involved, the
charge would remain a felony punishable by one to six years in prison.

Also, unless another offense involving a greater penalty was involved, those
under the influence of an illegal drug would be charged with a misdemeanor.
But the proposal gives judges the power to order that person into a
treatment program.

District judges around the state have said in the past that more than half
their cases involve some form of substance abuse. Police and prosecutors
claim many other crimes, such as burglaries and thefts, are committed to
support drug habits.

A bill that would have reduced penalties for possessing small amounts of
marijuana was defeated in the 1999 Legislature, but another version is being
drafted for the 2001 session.

Washoe County's district attorney said he'd like to know what impact
decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana has had in California.

Gammick said prosecutors in Washoe County already have the authority to
reduce charges of possession or use of small amounts of marijuana to a
misdemeanor, but each case is thoroughly and individually evaluated.

In addition to changes in marijuana penalties, the Supreme Court's
commission also urged a major change in the law to get the mentally ill out
of Nevada's jails. They proposed a state law "requiring the state Mental
Health System to take custody of all (mentally ill) persons arrested for
committing a crime other than a felony crime of violence."

The commission also recommended that the state executive branch
"re-establish an appropriate and comprehensive mental health program and
adequately fund it" and give judges the authority to divert nonviolent
offenders with mental illness into treatment.

The commission report further calls for major changes in how judges are
selected and in the structure of Nevada's courts.

The biggest change would be to impose a version of the Missouri Plan in
Nevada, where judges would be appointed on merit, then face an election with
no opponent after two years on the bench to determine whether the people
wanted to retain the judge. If not, another judge would be appointed.
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