Things to know about Nevada’s marijuana ballot measure
Proponents of legalized recreational Nevada marijuana pose in front of a new campaign billboard in Las Vegas on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. Nevada is one of five states that could approve recreational marijuana on the November ballot. (Michelle Rindels, The Associated Press)
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LAS VEGAS — Nevada joins California, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine as one of five states voting this November on whether to legalize recreational marijuana. Here are things to know about Question 2:
HOW DOES IT WORK?
If the measure passes the statewide ballot in November, it would allow adults to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana, or 1/8 ounce of concentrated marijuana, effective Jan. 1.
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The measure directs the Nevada Department of Taxation to adopt regulations by the end of 2017 on details such as how to issue recreational marijuana business licenses, how to prevent the substance from getting to people under the age of 21 and how to test marijuana’s potency.
Local governments could make rules on where marijuana businesses could be located, but couldn’t impose blanket bans on the substance.
A “yes” vote supports the initiative; a “no” vote keeps a marijuana prohibition.
The most recent poll on the matter, conducted in mid-September by KTNV and Rasmussen Reports, shows 53 percent of Nevadans support the measure and 39 percent oppose it.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Nevada voters legalized medical marijuana on the ballot in 2000, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the state Legislature passed a law allowing for dispensaries. Due to regulatory hurdles and an extensive licensing process, many dispensaries have only opened within the past year.
Nearly 14,000 people held medical marijuana cards in Nevada at the end of 2015, and Nevada dispensaries can accept medical marijuana cards from other states.
Efforts to legalize recreational marijuana died at the Nevada Legislature in both 2013 and 2015, but proponents are trying again with a direct statewide vote. That would put Nevada on par with Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, which allow marijuana broadly for adults.
In spite of the legalization movement, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reaffirmed in August that it considers marijuana an illicit “Schedule 1 ” drug, in the same category as heroin, LSD and Ecstasy.
States that legalize marijuana live with the uncertainty that federal officials could start enforcing those rules in earnest, shutting down pot industries.
WHAT DO BACKERS SAY ARE THE PROS?
Proponents argue that marijuana is safer than alcohol and generally harmless, especially if it’s carefully regulated and tested. Prosecuting people for use and possession is a poor use of resources and a heavy-handed tactic that crowds prisons with low-level offenders, they argue.
Supporters also contend that the fight against marijuana has fostered a cartel-driven black market that commands high prices because it has no legal market to sate U.S. demand.
On the financial side, proponents argue that legalizing marijuana could benefit Nevada’s economy. The measure calls for a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana sales, in addition to sales and use taxes.
If the measure passes, revenue will first go to the Department of Taxation and local municipalities for administration and regulation costs, and leftovers would go to the state’s general education fund. State analysts said they can’t predict how much the measure will bring in, although a study commissioned by proponents estimates it will bring in $464 million in tax revenue between 2018 and 2024.
WHAT DO OPPONENTS SAY ARE THE CONS?
Opponents question whether marijuana is truly harmless, pointing to instances in Colorado where edible marijuana products have contributed to three high-profile deaths.
They’ve also cited concerns about driving under the influence. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported in 2016 that the number of fatal crashes involving people who had recently used marijuana doubled in Washington since the state legalized the drug.
Additionally, marijuana businesses are banned from participating in traditional banking because of federal prohibitions on the substance. The all-cash market that’s created could put workers, and the state employees who administer their taxes, in danger of robberies.
Some critics say the ballot initiative unfairly favors big, out-of-state companies that have secured already difficult-to-get medical marijuana dispensary licenses. The initiative prevents anyone aside from current licensees from applying for a recreational marijuana license for the first 18 months.
WHO IS BEHIND IT?
An effort supporting Question 2, called the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, has financial support from Nevada medical marijuana dispensaries. They stand to build their businesses if they can tap into the larger recreational market, especially among the 42 million tourists who visit Las Vegas each year.
Opponents have been generally inactive until recently, when a group called “Protecting Nevada’s Children” rolled out a slick website and heavy-hitting endorsements making the case against legal weed on the basis that it will get into kids’ hands. But the group is not volunteering information about its donors, and state law doesn’t require them to disclose until Oct. 18.
In addition to numerous elected Republicans, opponents include Democratic Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Harry Reid, as well as the Nevada Resort Association — the main lobbying arm of the casino industry.
Supporters include a variety of Democratic state lawmakers. Democratic Rep. Dina Titus says she’s undecided about the measure.