Although other states have adopted a cautious, go-slow approach to the sale of so-called “recreational” marijuana, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Democrat-dominated Nevada Legislature are rushing headlong into chaotic Pot World. Which raises an important question: What’s the hurry?
California and Colorado adopted one-year moratoriums between the passage of recreational pot legislation and authorization for street sales while liberal Massachusetts imposed an 18-month moratorium in order to craft effective administrative and enforcement guidelines. And late last month a New Mexico legislative committee rejected recreational pot on a bipartisan 9-1 vote.
But there’ll be no moratorium in Nevada. Sandoval, who appointed a 19-member Marijuana Task Force on March 3, apparently hopes recreational pot and marijuana “edibles” — candy, cookies and gummy bears that appeal to children — will be on sale in our neighborhoods by July 1. Again, what’s the rush?
Sandoval last fall announced his opposition to Question 2, which legalized recreational pot, but after the controversial measure passed he and many Democrats — led by State Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas), the self-styled “Marijuana Maharajah” — started acting and talking like they think recreational pot revenue will be the key to balancing the state budget. I’m sorry to tell them that’s not going to happen even as they fast-track a complex piece of legislation written by what my well-informed friend and leading Question 2 opponent, Genoa attorney Jim Hartman, calls “Big Marijuana.”
The Marijuana Maharajah wants to establish public “pot parks” and turn Vegas into Amsterdam West, thereby dumping hundreds of sorry stoners into the streets of Lost Wages. Nevertheless, our casino industry is wisely opposed to recreational pot because of a well-justified fear of federal intervention. Remember ex-President Obama’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Health and Human Services Department (HHS) last year reaffirmed marijuana as a Schedule One “dangerous drug,” and new Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions has promised to enforce our nation’s drug and immigration laws.
So what about that illusory pot of gold at the end of the political rainbow? In the first year of legalization Colorado raised only about one-third of predicted pot revenue, and marijuana taxes currently generate less than 1 percent of the state’s general fund revenues. And somewhat surprisingly, the Denver School District hasn’t collected any revenue from local pot shops — zip, zero, nada.
Here are some additional facts published recently by the Colorado Springs Gazette: (1) marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 62 percent after recreational marijuana was legalized in 2013, (2) Colorado youth past-month pot use for 2013-14 was 74 percent higher than the national average, and (3) likely marijuana-related emergency room visits increased 37 percent after recreational marijuana was legalized.
Colorado legislation allows counties to opt out of the marijuana business, and 39 of that state’s 62 counties, or 63 percent of them, opted out. Even though Nevada’s new law prohibits county opt-outs, Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson has drafted a local opt-out ordinance, and I urge Carson DA Jason Woodbury to follow suit on grounds Big Marijuana can’t force 13 out of 17 Nevada counties — including Carson City and Douglas County — that voted against Question 2 to do something they rejected at the polls. In Nevada, however, each county will host a minimum of two recreational pot shops whether the local citizens want them or not. Two pot shops in Minden, how does that sound? The Marijuana Maharajah would probably call it “economic development.”
I think the Legislature should adopt a one-year moratorium on recreational pot sales and ban the sale of marijuana edibles. As many politicians might say, Let’s do it for the children.
Retired diplomat Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.