Pubdate: Fri, 13 Apr 2001
Source: Nevada Appeal (NV)
Copyright: 2001 Nevada Appeal
Author: Geoff Dornan
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Nevada's long-standing marijuana laws, among the toughest in the nation,
are under assault in the 2001 Legislature.

Pointing to a petition which won two-thirds of the popular vote last
November, the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Wednesday recommended
passage of the bill to legalize medical use of marijuana. Assembly Bill
453 by Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, also reduces
small-time possession and use from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Meanwhile, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
protested inequities in the marijuana laws and suggested the bill would
get favorable treatment when it gets to his committee.

Assembly Bill 453 allows medical patients suffering from certain
chronic, debilitating and terminal diseases to have and legally use
marijuana to help relieve the symptoms. She said the bill was designed
to implement the wishes of Nevada voters.

But it doesn't put the state into the business of regulating pot farms
or of growing medical marijuana in a state facility.

"I was very concerned with the state running pot farms because I don't
think the state would be very good at it," said Majority Leader Barbara
Buckley, D-Las Vegas.

Which prompted Assemblyman Tom Collins, D-Las Vegas, to joke that the
project should be turned over to the prison system.

"Some of those folks are honor camp trustees that I'm sure could grow
this in abundance for the state," he said.

Giunchigliani said those with a registry card permitting use of the drug
would be allowed to have a few plants and a small amount of pot in their
possession without fear of prosecution.

The bill also protects their families from prosecution for being around
the drug but doesn't permit anyone else to use it.

The bill creates a confidential state registry listing the names of
those permitted to use medical marijuana. Giunchigliani said it is
modeled after the Oregon system, which she said has not run into trouble
with the federal government.

The other part of the bill reduces Nevada's penalties for small-amount
possession and use of pot from a felony to a misdemeanor. John
Carpenter, R-Elko, voted to support the measure after the committee
amended it to require an evaluation so that those with a serious
substance abuse problem can be ordered into a treatment program.

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Chairman Mark James, R-Las Vegas, questioned
what he sees as inequities in Nevada's marijuana laws. The comments came
during discussion of Senate Bill 242, which corrects an unintended error
in a 1999 drug law which removed the ban on growing marijuana.

James told Ben Graham of the District Attorneys Association and Clark
County drug force detective Chris Bunn he seriously questions jailing
adults for using marijuana and wonders why the penalty for selling to a
juvenile isn't stiffer than for selling to an adult.

He said reimposing the felony mandating up to 15 years for cultivation
of marijuana makes that penalty much stiffer than the existing
possession charge, which carries a maximum of four years.

"I find myself tending to support the argument that your average adult
using small amounts of marijuana shouldn't be a felon," he said. "And I
told Chris that."

He also said lawmakers should pass legislation as the public wishes,
making marijuana available for medical needs, but that he believes the
state should control and license growers to provide it rather than
making patients find and buy it "from a crime organization."

"That's going to put us in the situation of supporting the people who
sell these drugs," he said.

He called on Graham and Bunn to help remedy those problems, toughen
penalties for selling drugs to juveniles and to concentrate on drug
rings rather than small users.
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