Marijuana legalization will go to voters

Nevada voters will decide in November whether to legalize the use and possession of marijuana.

After reviewing the petitions submitted by Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement, the Secretary of State's Office on Tuesday confirmed there were 74,740 valid signatures -- well over the 61,336 needed to qualify for the ballot.

In addition, organizers were able to meet requirement that at least 10 percent of those who voted in the last general election sign petitions in at least 13 of Nevada's 17 counties.

But they didn't meet it by much. Petition seekers failed to get the percentage of signers only in Elko, Douglas and Nye counties. They made the 10 percent mark by just four signatures in Esmeralda and by just 19 in Eureka. The rest of the counties were comfortably above the minimum.

Susan Bilyeu, deputy secretary of state for elections, said the petition will be placed on the November ballot.

The question asks voters to add a section to Nevada's constitution stating: "The use or possession of three ounces or less of marijuana by a person who has attained the age of 21 years is not cause for arrest, civil or criminal penalty, or seizure of forfeiture of assets."

It follows on the heels of legislation approved by the 2001 Legislature which reduced the penalty for use or possession of pot from a felony to a misdemeanor. The move followed a constitutional change ordered by the voters which directed the state to set up a system allowing those with a legitimate medical need to use pot without fear of state prosecution.

In Carson City, 2,206 valid signers were verified -- 240 more than needed. In Lyon, petitioners gathered 1,597 valid voter names -- 387 more than needed. And in Storey County, the 292 valid signatures collected were 110 more than needed to qualify for the ballot.

In Douglas, organizers needed 1,825 signers but found only 463 willing to join the petition drive. Elko raised 843 signers -- far fewer than the 1,424 needed. And Nye contributed 1,036 signatures when 1,226 were needed.

The majority of the 74,740 signatures collected came from Clark County -- 44,637. That is well above the 38,477 needed. Washoe County voters contributed 20,042 signatures, also well above the 12,245 needed.

The November ballot question would also require the state to provide for the cultivation, taxation and sale of marijuana, including licensing of stores to sell the drug. Taxes would be limited to whatever the tax on cigarettes is.

The move would also require pot be provided at low cost to patients who need it for a medical condition.

But the proposed amendment would require the state to maintain penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana as well as selling it to anyone under age 21.

And it would bar smoking marijuana in a public place or advertising it.

Federal law prohibits the use of marijuana. Even if legalized in Nevada, state law would not protect people from arrest for use or possession by federal authorities.


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