Research: Legalizing Marijuana May Not Change Much in Nevada

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The leading drug use researcher in the Netherlands predicts there will be little change in Nevada drug use, particularly by teenagers, if citizens support the latest initiative to legalize marijuana.

"My personal view is that drug policies and the legal status of marijuana is not a very important indicator of the use levels of marijuana in a population," Peter Cohen told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in a telephone interview from Amsterdam.

"It would neither increase nor reduce levels. The determinants for marijuana use are complex. They have to do with fashion, culture and economics."

Cohen and other researchers contend many teenagers try marijuana out of peer pressure and youthful rebellion, smoke for a few years and then quit.

Their research has found the actual number of regular marijuana users is about 2.5 percent of the Netherlands' population over age 12, compared with 5 percent in the United States.

Since 1976, authorities in the Netherlands have tolerated the sale of small amounts of marijuana.

Cohen's view, that legalization minimally impacts usage rates, is at odds with arguments being advanced in Nevada by supporters and opponents of the new marijuana initiative circulated by the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana.

The committee has launched a petition drive in Nevada to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to legalize the use of an ounce or less of marijuana in private by people over 21. It needs to collect 51,234 valid signatures by June 15 to place the initiative before voters. Citizens would have to approve the ballot question this fall and again in 2006 to amend the constitution.

Marijuana would remain illegal under federal law, and moves to legalize it in Nevada could face federal challenges.