Question Two: The politics of pot

Published: Sep. 8, 2016 at 6:05 PM PDT
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Nevada voters will be asked this November if they want to join the list of states which have legalized recreational marijuana. Between now and then they're going to hear a lot from people on both sides of the issue.

You'd expect to hear all the old arguments about the drug itself in this debate such as the drug war hasn't worked. Why not regulate and tax it?

"We are enabling an underground market and a cartel," argues Washoe County Commissioner and Question Two supporter Kitty Jung. "As we've seen in this country, prohibition has never worked."

"People need to study what has happened in Colorado," counters Jim Hartman, who heads a group called Nevadans for Responsible Drug Policy. "There's still a black market in Colorado. The attorney general of that state will state that the black market is as big or bigger than it ever was."

Legalized marijuana as economic development, however, may be unexpected as a debate point. Jung says it could bring jobs and tourists.

"I think it would be a great industry here. I think it could be a tourist destination attraction."

Hartman doubts that, but says the result is more likely negative, turning off some companies that might be considering moving to Nevada.

"I don't know how many bud tenders we need in Nevada, but I would say what it's going to hurt is bringing new industry into the state."

In fact, Hartman makes the argument that Question 2 is not a straight-up decision on the wisdom of legalization, but an initiative written by and for the benefit of a special interest--the marijuana industry.

"It gives special advantages to the medical marijuana licensees currently. It gives special privileges to liquor distributors. It will void in rural areas any ability to opt out of legalizing marijuana."

In fact, although it decriminalizes possession of an ounce of pot and allows people to grow their own, he says a look at the detail restricts that right to benefit the industry.

"There's a 25-mile radius restriction on the ability for people to grow their own marijuana if they are within 25 miles of a retail marijuana store. So I call this phony legalization."

But Jung says the upside is obvious.

"We know that there is a tremendous amount of tax revenue that we could be putting on this, much as we do with other sin taxes on alcohol and tobacco. It also would fund our woefully underfunded schools."

The existing sales tax would apply as would an excise tax of 15 percent, earmarked for K-12 education.

Question 2 was first an initiative petition sent to the legislature.

When the lawmakers took no action it was sent back to the people. If they say yes on election day, it will go into effect New Year's Day.

As a statutory initiative it could not be changed by the legislature for three years.