Scene In Passing: Hot-pot issue is governmental hot potato

Medical marijuana is now a hot-pot issue, reminiscent of the proverbial hot-potato references of yore, but angst involved is mostly overblown.

Like a hot potato, hot pot for medicinal purposes has become a jurisdictional jumping bean few seem overjoyed to tackle in governmental circles. It displays weaknesses and strengths in the nation’s federal system. Federal authorities turn a blind eye for now. States make their own determinations. Localities deal with the consequences because that’s where the rubber meets the road.

Carson City is no exception. District Attorney Neil Rombardo dealt with some pertinent issues Thursday, including a key one involving if, when and where medical pot will be sold here.

“We could put it pretty much wherever we want,” he told the Board of Supervisors as he and Community Development Director Lee Plemel pushed for a 180-day moratorium on rule-making and taking prospective purveyors’ medical pot business applications here. Rombardo and Plemel are getting the delay, but a lengthy discussion revealed local concerns about the kettle of fish this pot could prompt soon.

Rombardo, asked about Carson City opting out by not allowing pot here, said that’s possible. But he said his reading of “tea leaves’ is that if too many localities balk in that manner, the Legislature might impose it anyway. Bottom line, the consolidated city’s authority if medical pot comes to town will be over zoning, permits, oversight and business license issues.

Taking time to put city rules in place, then allow applications, will await state regulations expected April 1. That is the reason for the moratorium idea.

A voter-approved state constitutional amendment led to the current situation. In other states, pot came by various means. In Colorado and Washington state, allowing even recreational use is at hand. In other words, this jurisdictional tangle in some ways comes out of the old states’ rights playbook. As often is the case, localities bear the brunt of decisions made up the line.

The Feds currently don’t take action, but who knows what the next administration will do?

Marijuana first was outlawed in various states about a century ago, an intriguing twist given the reversal of that trend these days. The national government for the most part didn’t put it outside the law until a 1937 tax act basically made use and possession illegal. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that tax law in 1969, but Congress passed the 1970 Controlled Substances Act and kept it illegal.

So why is angst in some quarters overblown? The issue boils down to either keeping pot on the black market or regulating it. If states and cities can regulate alcohol consumption, they can regulate medicinal pot.

As for the Feds, their timidity likely stems from someone understanding the 1920-33 Volstead Act, which brought alcohol Prohibition, was billed as a noble experiment but turned into an ignoble failure.

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at


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