Pubdate: Thu, 22 Jul 2010
Source: Las Vegas City Life (NV)
Copyright: 2010 Las Vegas CityLife
Author: Jason Whited


Will Dems' Shift On Medical Marijuana Pave The Way For Legal Pot

For the first time in Nevada history, a major political party has
endorsed the creation of a safe, legal medical marijuana industry -- a
move that could ease the suffering of thousands of patients and
finally legitimize the state's black market network of pot

In their official party platform, released just days after their
late-June convention, delegates with the Nevada Democratic Party for
the first time included clear, powerful language endorsing Nevada's
emerging medical marijuana industry "as a contributing part of a
compassionate, alternative health care in Nevada."

"Many Democratic activists, as part of their commitment to accessible
and compassionate health care, support current Nevada state law and
believe patients should have access to a full spectrum of medically
approved and supervised treatments," said Phoebe Sweet, party

The state Democratic party's newfound cannabis love encourages
longtime activists like Mike McAuliffe, who runs a patient referral
service in town and who was a driving force behind the inclusion of a
medical marijuana plank. McAuliffe said he's hopeful Democrats in the
Legislature will use their newly minted pot plank as a springboard for
codifying a safe, legal means of access to the plant for registered
patients -- a move lawmakers conspicuously avoided when they stood up
the state program in 2001.

"Nine-year-old legislative missteps are less relevant than correcting
the deficiencies in this constitutional mandate, especially when it
affects the quality of life for some of our neighbors," McAuliffe
said. "Rather than recriminate, we should understand that this is a
health care matter rather than a criminal matter, and we should
establish a board to study current distribution models and advise the
Legislature on a workable Nevada solution."

The Democrats' new stand also thrills many of the state's 2,808
medical marijuana patients -- a number that's grown exponentially in
just the past couple of years.

Although their state-issued cards allow patients to use the plant to
treat a variety of illnesses without fear of arrest, lawmakers never
provided a state-sanctioned means by which the sick could obtain it.

"It's like [lawmakers] expected marijuana to magically appear for us.
[Legislators] never provided a way for us to get it legally," said
Dan, a local medical marijuana patient after buying a small bag of
high-potency pot recently at one of the city's illicit dispensaries.
(He didn't want his last name printed because such purchases are illegal.)

Although Nevada has allowed for the use of medical marijuana since
2001, state statutes don't permit anyone to buy, sell or trade the
plant, its seeds or its flowers in exchange for money or anything of
value -- what the law calls "consideration." Since 2001, patients have
had to deal with either drug dealers or, more recently, buy cannabis
from the network of pot dispensaries now rapidly blooming across the

The new Democratic position on an officially sanctioned means of
obtaining medical marijuana means state lawmakers could provide just
that in the 2011 session, assuming the party maintains control of both
houses of the Legislature and Democratic lawmakers pay heed to the
platform document, which isn't always the case.

"This might be a session where we can see what ways are available to
address this lack of access," said state Assemblyman Joe Hogan, a Las
Vegas Democrat. "My wife reminds me that when she was sick with breast
cancer, she would have liked to have the opportunity to see if medical
marijuana would have relieved the discomfort she had for many months.
People absolutely should have the right to reasonable access to that

If Hogan and others have their way, reasonable access to medical
marijuana might be exactly what Nevada patients get next year.

According to state insiders, both lawmakers and officials with the
Nevada State Health Division, the government entity that oversees the
state's medical marijuana program, have begun asking staffers at the
Legislative Counsel Bureau to research how other states have handled
legal pot distribution.

Because staff work of this degree on any issue is often the precursor
to lawmakers proposing and, later, codifying a legislative fix, some
say the chances are good lawmakers will finally allow patients to buy
their weed openly, from state-sanctioned growers or

That is, if the Party of No is unable to block such a bill in the 2011
legislative session.

"My optimistic side says it does open a new field that would make it
more inviting, or less intimidating, to venture into finishing up the
job with respect to supply and safe production and distribution,"
Hogan said. "But, still, I think everybody is running a little scared
during this campaign because our opposition is in such an attack mode.
While we get along pretty well with the Republicans, this is a new
breed, and they're pretty savage, and they're aligned with folks who
are the least progressive on this issue."

Still, statewide pot activists like Dave Schwartz, Nevada manager for
the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization that has spent millions
in the state on two marijuana ballot initiatives in 2002 and 2006
(when 44 percent of Nevada voters cast ballots in favor of regulating
it), is likewise hopeful.

Schwartz, whose organization is pushing a new ballot initiative that
would tax and regulate marijuana for all consumers over 21, says it's
only a matter of time before patients here can buy their medical
cannabis legally.

"Growing your own might work well for some, but the majority of
patients don't have a caregiver or can't take care of their own
plants. So, the availability of dispensaries is absolutely huge for
patients who are suffering and need access to medication," he said. 
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