The initiative petition that would legalize use and possession of marijuana in Nevada will be put on the next election ballot.
More than 80,000 people signed the petitions asking lawmakers to legalize possession of up to an ounce of pot and authorizing the state to license retailers who would sell it.
Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project said the initiative would also double current penalties for selling to minors and penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana. He urged The Nevada Assembly's Judiciary Committee to support the petition, saying current marijuana laws are part of a 35-year war on drugs that is a total failure.
But law enforcement turned out in force to oppose the proposal saying marijuana is the "gateway drug" that leads to crack cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine addiction.
In the end, as they did Wednesday with two smoking initiatives, the committee decided to take no action on the proposal leaving the decision to voters two years from now.
Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini said after the meeting alcohol is even more frequently the "gateway drug" for young people headed down the wrong path. But Pierini said comparing alcohol to pot is not a good reason to argue for legalization of marijuana.
"Alcohol is a large problem that costs the country billions, but do we need to add another social problem by legalizing marijuana? Have we learned anything from the past," he said.
Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, who is deputy chief of police in Henderson, repeated what he said the day this Legislature opened: "Marijuana will not be legalized on my watch."
He said serious crimes are often spurred on by drug abuse - but the two examples he cited involved methamphetamine and heroin, not marijuana. He said many people he has talked with as a police officer told him their first drug experience was marijuana.
Clark County Sheriff Bill Young told the committee claims that police are putting thousands of people in prison for marijuana possession aren't true. Simple possession, he said, gets the drug confiscated and the user ticketed, not jailed.
And Carson Sheriff Kenny Furlong said changing the law would simply send the wrong message to young people in the state.
But Kampia said prosecuting marijuana crimes has cost billions in police and court costs. He also argued that it's keeping police from focusing more on serious crimes.
Kampia said, having licensed stores sell marijuana would take the criminal element out of the business just as repealing prohibition took the gangsters out of the booze business.
"What I'm hearing is that these people (law enforcement) really don't like people who sell drugs," he told the committee. "If you don't like them, put them out of business."
No one on the committee indicated any support for legalizing home possession and use of marijuana. Instead of voting on the initiative, they agreed to simply let it die, which automatically puts it on the 2006 ballot.
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or at 687-8750.