Las Vegas Sun

October 30, 2014

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MARIJUANA:

Pot legalization group targets Vegas

Director says Nevada residents are pragmatic about drug

Pipe Dreams? seg. 4

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-California) says now is the time for a reasoned debate on legalizing marijuana. Face to Face hears from an advocate.

Beyond the Sun

The Marijuana Policy Project has set up its first state chapter in Las Vegas, launching another effort to get voters to legalize pot in Nevada.

The national nonprofit advocacy group is too late to qualify an initiative for the 2010 ballot, and would likely try for 2012, director Neil Levine said.

“Our goal is to see marijuana treated the same way as alcohol,” Levine said.

Nevada voters twice since 2002 have rejected opportunities to legalize the use of marijuana, but in 2000, 65 percent of Nevadans approved a ballot initiative to allow the medical use of marijuana. The law authorized Nevadans to grow up to seven plants, only three mature, and possess an ounce for their own use.

The general ban on marijuana use, on the other hand, is “enormously failed public policy,” Levine said. No one has died of a marijuana overdose, he said, and making the drug illegal puts its distribution in the hands of street gangs and drug traffickers, which increases crime.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2006, 14.8 million Americans age 12 or older used marijuana at least once in the month before being surveyed.

The policy of marijuana prohibition doesn’t work, and it doesn’t make sense, Levine said.

Some statistics show the rate of marijuana use among young people is declining, though it’s still high. The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2007 Monitoring the Future Survey showed that from 2000 to 2007, past-year pot use decreased more than 20 percent among eighth, 10th and 12th graders combined. However, more than 40 percent of high school seniors report at least once instance of pot use.

Addiction recovery specialist Dr. Mel Pohl points to use by young people as a primary reason he is against legalizing marijuana. In 30 years of treating drug addicts, Pohl said, 99 percent of them started with drinking alcohol and smoking pot. Data show that the earlier young people are exposed to drugs the more likely they are to become addicts.

People’s lives are ruined by alcohol abuse, and making it easier to obtain marijuana would expand the opportunities for similar destruction, Pohl said.

“Philosophically, as a culture and society, I don’t think we need to encourage mood alteration with a substance,” Pohl said.

The Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, D.C., exists to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Levine said the organization has made progress since it started working in Nevada in 2001, and that setting up shop in Las Vegas makes sense because polling data show the state’s residents take a pragmatic approach to the drug.

Levine said polls show a majority of Nevadans favoring the legalization of marijuana, but their feelings have not translated to the ballot box.

A 2002 ballot initiative supported by the Marijuana Policy Project failed, collecting 39 percent of the vote. It would have legalized possession of up to three ounces of marijuana.

In 2006 Levine led the campaign for the Regulation of Marijuana Initiative, which would have made it legal for adults to purchase, for personal use, one ounce of marijuana — the equivalent of a pack and a half of cigarettes. That also failed, getting 44 percent of the vote.

Both ballot measures needed more than half the vote to pass.

Levine said polls show that more than 60 percent of Nevadans favor legalizing marijuana. His goal is to meet with enough community leaders to determine what type of ballot initiative could be crafted that would pass.

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