Jim Hartman: Inconvenient truths for marijuana industry
Nevada was among four states to “legalize” recreational marijuana in November 2016, passing an initiative written and promoted by the commercial marijuana industry. The Nevada initiative was largely financed by the state’s medical marijuana owners who wrote into the ballot measure their “exclusive right” to be the recreational marijuana retailers. Their campaign was well-financed as it has been in other states that have legalized recreational marijuana by initiative.
Opponents find themselves badly outspent by pot promoters — most notably by a $5 to $1 margin in Colorado in 2012, and by an overwhelming $11 to $1 in California in 2016. As a result of the huge financial disparity, legalization opponents in initiative campaigns are at a monumental electoral disadvantage — it’s actually a “rigged system.”
Immediately following the election, an alliance of medical marijuana licensees and Nevada politicians joined together in an unprecedented rush to a July 1, 2017 “Early Start” date for recreational marijuana sales. There were no public hearings and no vote of approval by the commission charged with regulating marijuana. Voters had been assured recreational sales would begin six months later, on Jan. 1, 2018, after permanent regulations were approved.
Nevada’s wild ride to “Early Start” resulted in national embarrassment with a self-created “pot emergency” being declared by Governor Sandoval on July 6 — just five days later — as a result of a legal controversy over marijuana distribution rights. One news outlet described the first 13 days of legalization in Nevada as “total mayhem.”
While Douglas County in Northern Nevada has “zoned out” commercial marijuana establishments, economically disadvantaged North Las Vegas in Southern Nevada already has issued 52 commercial marijuana licenses. Douglas County keeps commercial marijuana away from their county’s young people, while we legitimize it and makes it more accessible to at-risk youth in low-income communities like North Las Vegas.
Ownership information on the identity of these licensees has been denied to the press by city government officials, citing state Supreme Court case authority. There’s no marijuana ownership identity “transparency” in Nevada. Who are these licensees? A Nevada recreational marijuana licensee with Reno and Las Vegas retail stores has been implicated in a money laundering felony conviction in California involving their medical marijuana dispensaries.
The country needs to “tap the brakes” on commercialized marijuana. Marijuana was reaffirmed as a Schedule 1 dangerous drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act. That finding was made by the Obama administration in 2016 after a lengthy, exhaustive review of all relevant scientific and medical evidence by the Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of the Drug Enforcement Agency. It’s true social mores are changing and “legalization” of marijuana is now favored by a majority, i.e. no prison time for small-quantity possession. It’s equally true a strong majority of Americans have grave reservations about “commercialization” of marijuana. They don’t want pot shops and “grow” operations in their towns and neighborhoods, or near their schools and homes.
An inconvenient truth also needs acknowledgment by the Nevada marijuana industry and state politicians. Federal marijuana law trumps state law under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, and the Supreme Court so ruled in Gonzales v. Raich (2005). It’s “settled law” that the feds can prosecute marijuana offenses under the authority of the Commerce Clause through the Controlled Substances Act.
Attorney General Sessions should be commended for upholding the “rule of law” on marijuana as well as putting the scientific and medical evidence on the dangers of marijuana ahead of the politics (and profits) of legalization and commercialization.
Jim Hartman, an attorney residing in Genoa, is the former president of Nevadans for Responsible Drug Policy.