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September 1, 2014

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Looking in on: Carson City:

Petition seeks OK for hemp in energy research

Backers fight association with marijuana

Two years after voters rejected a proposal to allow Nevadans to possess 1 ounce of marijuana for personal use, a plan has surfaced to permit research into using industrial hemp, a relative of marijuana, to generate energy.

An initiative petition has been filed to allow the Desert Research Institute at the University of Nevada, Reno, to research industrial hemp as a source of biomass for energy.

“Hemp is not marijuana,” said Kathryn Whitman, president of Hemp for Fuel Inc.

It is, however, a form of Cannabis sativa. And Nevada law defines marijuana as “all parts of any plant of the genus Cannabis.”

Whitman, a Reno businesswoman, said industrial hemp was used in World Wars I and II by the military for such things as sealant on ships and in uniforms.

Nevada “has a responsibility to provide us with clean renewal energy and has the duty to promote any research that will help us to this goal,” she said.

DRI spokesman Greg Bortolin said the institute is studying such items as wood chips, pinyon pine and peanut shells as possible energy sources. Hemp “could well be another biomass,” he said.

Biomass is any organic matter available on a renewable basis, such as agricultural crops and waste, wood and wood wastes, animal wastes, municipal wastes and aquatic plants.

Petition backers would have to gather 58,628 signatures of registered voters before Nov. 11 to try to change the law. If they succeed, the petition will be presented to the 2009 Legislature, which will have 40 days to approve or reject it.

If the petition is not approved, it will appear on the 2010 ballot. The Legislature, if it rejects the plan, also could submit an alternative proposal to voters, with the measure receiving more votes becoming law.

A proposed constitutional amendment to permit possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana was defeated in 2006, 56 percent to 44 percent.

•••

Expanded mental health programs in Nevada could save tens of millions of dollars in prison costs, officials told the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice.

District Judge Jackie Glass of Las Vegas, saying some people charged with crimes are in that position because of mental illness, told the panel that a $40 million expansion of the state’s Mental Health Courts could allow them to handle 3,600 cases. In contrast, it would cost $180 million to build a 1,700-inmate prison.

One of the Mental Health Court system’s goals is to decriminalize the severely mentally ill and help return them to a productive life by offering them treatment instead of prison, Glass said.

Statistics suggest that is occurring. Clark County’s Mental Health Courts in Las Vegas received 395 cases from December 2005 to December 2007 and accepted 210 of them. Ninety-one percent of those who graduated from the program have stayed out of trouble, officials said.

Justice of the Peace John Tatro, who serves as the mental health judge in Carson City, said he initially viewed it as a “coddling” program when he started three years ago. But he’s done an about-face.

Those involved must go to court once a week and have daily counseling sessions, Tatro said. “It’s grueling for them,” he said. “But it definitely has helped with recidivism.”

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, coordinator of the specialty courts in Washoe County, said more money is needed for housing and favors setting up a mental health program for inmates being released from prison. Howard Skolnik, director of the state Corrections Department, estimates 2,500 inmates need some type of mental health help.

The advisory commission, headed by Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty, will make its recommendations in June for presentation to Gov. Jim Gibbons and the Legislature.

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