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August 4, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Why legal pot is coming to Nevada, and why we need to prepare

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Ted S. Warren / AP

Jake Dimmock, co-owner of the Northwest Patient Resource Center medical marijuana dispensary, waters plants Oct. 10, 2012, in Seattle.

Medical Marijuana

James Parsons, president of Medical Cannabis Consultants of Nevada, poses at the business Monday, October 25, 2010. Parsons was one of several Las Vegans who was targeted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Metro Police in a crackdown Sept. 8 on individuals who grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. Parsons is legally registered with the state to harvest marijuana for medicinal purposes but his business and Summerlin home were raided. To this day he has still not been charged. Launch slideshow »
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

It was no great feat, but as I predicted last October, Colorado and Washington have legalized pot, and Nevada is now in danger of losing our rightful place as the capital of forbidden fun.

On his tourism blog, Arthur Frommer wrote last year that we could “expect a torrent of new tourism to Seattle and Denver.”

The media is all over it, with a recent story filled with enough dumb pot puns and jokes to merit an editor’s termination, including references to “smoke signals,” grilled cheese sandwiches and food trucks, and fears that the feds could “harsh the mellow.”

Medical marijuana is already legal here, and Thursday a Nevada legislative committee approved the creation of medical marijuana dispensaries.

And last week, the Nevada Legislature took up a bill to legalize recreational marijuana. It’s not going anywhere, but I applaud the Assembly Judiciary Committee for giving it a hearing.

Here’s why: There’s a better-than-even chance that recreational pot will be legal in Nevada after the 2016 election.

Wait, what’s that? you ask.

Let me explain.

For the first time, the Pew Research Center, the highly respected nonpartisan polling outfit, found that a majority of Americans favor marijuana legalization.

Click to enlarge photo

Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore inspects the product and learns about the different uses for and varieties of marijuana during a trip to a dispensary in Arizona on Friday, March 22, 2013.

This wasn’t all that surprising, however, because a majority favored legalization for the first time in a Gallup poll last year.

More striking than the raw numbers is the trend, which points to rising support for legalization.

In fact, as an insightful recent piece in Talking Points Memo pointed out, the trend seems to parallel support for gay marriage.

The movement on gay marriage, recall, has been caused by a massive demographic shift whereby younger voters overwhelmingly favor marriage equality. Same with marijuana. Stay calm: Before you freak out, fearing the young are sitting around getting high all day, keep in mind that 6.9 percent of the population report using marijuana regularly, according to the most recent data. Yes, that’s up from 5.8 percent in 2007, but way down from a high of 13.2 percent in 1979.

The real driver of the surge in popularity for both gay marriage and legalization of marijuana is a rapid increase in what I’d call the “Who Cares?” Caucus. These younger voters — 1 in 5 of all voters in November were ages 18 to 29 — just don’t see the big deal with gay marriage or legal pot.

Conservatives have begun to throw in the towel on gay marriage, but on pot, some of them are actually leading the way, including National Review magazine, the organ of the establishment right.

So the trend is clear, and now, legalization advocates are looking for their next round of target states. (Just how the feds will react to this remains to be seen; marijuana is still illegal in the eyes of Washington.)

Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, told me that the big prize is California, home to 38 million people and a cultural bellwether for the rest of the nation.

But Nevada is also at the top of the list, he said. It’s not hard to figure out why — we’re libertarian when it come to vices and have been able to integrate them into our culture and economy while maintaining a sense of normalcy. (OK, not entirely, but you get the point.)

The voters rejected legal pot in the past, but that was seven years ago.

The target year is 2016, when lazy Democrats will get off the couch to elect the first woman president in American history.

Again, it’s happening.

Legalizers should temper their joy. Yes, this is the right policy. It could raise tax revenue and keep people out of the vortex that is the legal system.

And surely Nevada’s creative minds will figure out how to capitalize on legal pot.

But, as with end of the prohibition of gambling and alcohol, we need to put the right policies in place to deal with the relevant issues, including increased marijuana consumption, crime, underage use, driving while intoxicated, addiction, etc.

These are not simple issues, and while ending prohibition will relieve certain problems, it will create others.

If we don’t get the policy right, we could wind up with prohibition again.

So, in a way, it’s good that we aren’t taking action yet. We can watch Colorado and Washington state, which are both pretty rational, decently governed states. Then we can follow their lead, learning from their successes and failures.

But we need to start figuring this out, because it’s happening. And 2016 will be here quick.

• • •

In my last column, I advocated for the passage of Senate Bill 322, which would put more Southern Nevadans on the board of the Nevada Department of Transportation. I glibly encouraged Sen. Michael Roberson to support the measure over the objections of his fellow Republican, Gov. Brian Sandoval. Roberson called me to say he supports the bill. I’m glad to hear it.

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